Ariah, by B.R. Sanders
Release Date: May 2015
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Ariah’s magical training has been interrupted. Forced to rely on a mentor, Dirva, who is not who he claims to be, and a teacher who is foreign and powerful, Ariah is drawn into a culture wholly different from the elven one that raised him.
As his friendship with Dirva’s brother blossoms into a surprising romance, and he slowly learns how to control the dangerous magic in his blood, life finally appears to be coming together for Ariah—but love and security are cut short by a tyrannical military empire bent on expanding its borders.
War, betrayal, passion, and confusion follow Ariah as his perilous journey leads him beyond the walls of the Empire, and into unfamiliar territory within himself. Along the way, he’ll discover just how much he’s willing to give up to find his place in the world, and he’ll learn what it means to sacrifice himself for freedom—and for love.
Sometimes a book just sucks you in and when you resurface from the depths of its pages, from a stunning and vivid inner world, you feel so full and can’t imagine how to start talking about it.
Well, I know this high fantasy deserves the highest rating and it’s made it’s way on my favourite shelf – the fourth book this year that I chose to put there. But otherwise, I’m left a little disoriented. I want to talk about the world, the characters, the magic, the races and different societies, the forms of living and loving – believe me, there is so much that fascinated me and that was unique and something I had never read about. Writing all this, I think the review would get out of hand, though, so I’ll try to focus on what spoke to me most. But how to choose?
This book basically tells Ariah’s story that spans over many years of his adulthood, starting when, with 30 years, he goes to Rabatha in order to start his magical training with his mentor Dirva. In many different phases and also places, we accompany Ariah as he learns how to live with his quite difficult shaping gift, in a world that often does not look mildly on elves and oppresses them. We witness how he finds love, that comes in different shapes and genders, and many amazing people to share it with, and how he grows into the person he – probably 😉 – was meant to be.
The, for me, most beautiful love Ariah has is with Sorcha:
I had no ready answer. There were never any ready answers to explain whatever it was between myself and Sorcha. I coiled a lock of her hair around my finger and tried to gather my thoughts. “Well, he…he is my roots,” was the best I could do.
Shayat batted my hand away. “Roots?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sorcha is…he keeps me grounded in myself. There is no need for privacy with him. There is no judgment, no expectations, just solace.”
And to witness their relationship change and develop over the years was both wonderful and part wise heartbreaking. So very touching.
I think part of the charm of this book is that you don’t really know how it’s gonna end and with whom Ariah is gonna end up with or at all, so I’ll be leaving it at that. The romance isn’t even the important or prominent part of this book – but such a great one nonetheless.
I absolutely love how the book is divided into different parts. They are all connected via Ariah, because the story is written in first person from his perspective, and that binds them together and makes them feel whole, but every part has also a further different feel to it and there is something new to discover and learn. Be it about Ariah himself, his gift, or be it about the land, the city, or the desert, or be it about the different elven races and how they live, or be it about the people he gets to know and even sometimes love.
I also find it remarkable that this book shows us a different kind of elves – not the ones we associate with the word because of Tolkien. No, these elves are not high and mighty and fortunate. In the Qin empire they are only treated a little bit better than slaves and the unfairness of their lives, that they just take for what it is, is in parts hard to witness. I am utterly grateful that not every part of the book plays in the Empire. In addition, there are different elven races who are not only different in appearance but also have different gifts and ways of living. That was so interesting.
I want to add a thought about the shaping gift that Ariah has and needs to learn to master and live with. His gift is hard to understand and grasp – not only for the reader, but also for him and everyone, and that’s why it takes him so long to get a hang of it. Ariah can sense other people’s wishes and thoughts and is in a way forced by his gift to positively react to and mirror them. And that’s not only mind-blowing, because there are times when you start to wonder if what he feels and does is really him, but it also brings consent or the lack thereof to a new dubious level. Readers who are (very) sensitive to this, should be warned. I am sorry that I can’t explain this any better.
I am sure I forgot to mention something very important. I’ll probably think about this book for some time and come back to it. Oh, by the way, I’ve seen there are more stories in the same universe, and I’m so going to read all of it.
Let me come to an end for now. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you like high fantasy and love to read something new and unique on all accounts and if you can keep an open mind and want to be surprised, then this is your book.
B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. Outside of writing, B has worked as a research psychologist, a labor organizer and a K-12 public education data specialist.