Series: The Elementae #1
on January 30th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.
But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.
This intense, richly drawn high-fantasy by the author of Scarlet will hold readers spellbound.
Trigger warnings: emotional and physical abuse, marital rape, torture, relationship violence, childbirth/pregnancy concerns
There’s no disputing it – Reign the Earth is a story of abuse. The mental, emotional and eventual physical abuse that Shalia goes through after being married to Calix, the King is incredibly vivid and confronting. And because of that, this is definitely not an easy read. But it’s a rewarding one, that I’m glad I stuck with til the end.
When we first meet Shalia, a much beloved Princess of the desert who is the youngest daughter with four brothers, we see a young, naive girl who wants to please her husband. He orders her around, preferring to call her “wife” rather than addressing her by her name. Calix is obsessed with things like showing people who’s boss, and using his newfound Queen as a display of power rather than respecting her as an individual who can bring peace across the lands.
I’m probably not the first one who would say I underestimated Shalia, wondering why she would withstand such ill treatment from her abuser, but the more I delved into the novel, the more I understood her.
As YA readers, we’re conditioned to think that “strong YA heroines” come with certain attributes – they’re strong, smart, brave and usually a female fighter who can stand up on her own two feet. When we see someone like Shalia who is constantly disrespected and even put in her place by others superior to her, it’s not a stretch to automatically think her as someone who is weak. However, she shows her strength in different ways – she’s a heroine who gets to know people and their wishes, who connects with others, who often puts her own heart and needs behind others…including her emotionally abusive husband.
While we as readers may be quick to write her (and him) off, we can see her constantly and consistently give him the benefit of the doubt. To know that as a King, he is only looking after the people, and that he has to make these tough choices that will result in short term pain but long term fruition. We find out that she only wants peace between the desert where she came from, and the lands that the King owns, and she believes being the ever obedient wife will lead her in that direction.
Little do we know, that Calix is self obsessed and his court are the people who constantly look the other way when he orders Shalia to do his bidding. It’s not obvious at first as he tests the waters with his new wife, which had me questioning whether Calix really was the villain, but it slowly but surely descends into complete disrespect. Horrifying quotes will begin to surface such as:
“You have failed at your own purpose, wife. Where is my child?…Why is your womb still cold? That is your sole value, and you cannot manage it.”
“He’s not wrong, you know. Think of what a reaction I would have if I flung your lifeless body off the battlements for your brother to see.”
The good news is, her giving nature and her caring heart has lead her to connect with others in her court, from her brother Kairos who watches over her, and her brother in law Galen who offers up a shoulder to cry on. With the combination of a rebellion in the midst run by her very own brother, to the elementae beings with hidden powers, things get really interesting towards the end of the book after its slow start. I loved how the book focused so much on family, especially sibling loyalty and how there were so many shades of grey when it comes to family. While Calix is pretty much a straight villain, I found more depth in the familial relationships and Shalia’s character.
After a slow start, I did have to persist with the book, as I struggled with the book’s dark themes not really knowing what it would entail. There isn’t much action that happens in the story and the world building was kind of hazy, which made the abuse stand out even more. I definitely think this book should come with a trigger warning, so that you’d be able to mentally prepare yourself for what’s ahead. But let me tell you – this is a journey that’s definitely worth enduring if you can stomach it.
Reign the Earth had me crying for a good 10 minutes during the end of the book, not because it was sad, per se, but because the story within its pages actually reflects real life. How many women do you hear of who find themselves in abusive relationships, not wanting to leave their partner because they believe they can change? And it’s not because these women are weak. Sometimes they are the strongest people who endure the abuse every day of their lives.
There’s no denying it – Reign the Earth is an incredibly dark book, as it runs into multiple confronting themes that may be triggering for some. But it’s also one that is incredibly rewarding to read, championing the hope in the strength of women standing up to their abusers.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book for review! All quotes have been taken from the uncorrected proof and may have changed in the final version.
Reign the Earth is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$16.99.