My favourite part of the book is probably the world-building; I’ve never encountered anything quite like it. There are eight kingdoms, the four Seasons and the four Rhythms, and each has either a king or queen (always of the same sex for a given kingdom) who has the power to use the royal conduit, an artefact with magical power. They can use these to direct the behaviour and abilities of their people.
What this means is that each kingdom embodies distinct traits, instilled in them by their monarch’s use of the conduit. Winterians, for instance, are all fair-skinned, with white hair and blue eyes. They’re hardy and they like the cold – so much so that when Winterians babies are placed within a bowl of snow at five days old, they enjoy it. Cordellans, on the other hand, have brown-blonde hair and the ability to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
The book also touches on what this means for people of mixed ancestry. The heir to the Cordellan throne, for instance, has his looks from his father, the king (brown-blonde hair, blue eyes), but he is less an opportunist and more of an artist, like his mother’s people. Sarah Raasch actually discussed this in more depth in a Tumblr post yesterday.
It’s a fascinating concept, raising questions about the free will of the people that are only skimmed in this book, and I’m really hoping to see it explored more in-depth later in the series.
I also really loved the protagonist, Meira. She’s determined and confident, but she also desperately wants to matter, to Winter and to her surrogate father, Sir. It means she acts selfishly and throws tantrums when she feels like she doesn’t matter, or only matters because she’s a young woman who can be married off. She grows a lot during the book, realising that this is selfish behaviour, but I still sympathised with her when she did it because she feels so alone and worthless. Raasch’s characterisation of her is skilled; she is bratty enough to be genuinely flawed and endanger her fellow refugees, but justified enough to remain sympathetic.