Common romance genre tropes in a Renaissance fantasy setting underlined by Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sounds boring? You’re wrong.
Synopsis: Vhalla Yarl is a library girl at the palace for the Solaris Empire. After a life-changing encounter with the mysterious Prince Aldrik, her magical powers as a Windwalker are awakened, the first one in over a hundred years to appear. Vhalla finds herself the tool of the Emperor’s conquest in the north, but she is more drawn to Prince Aldrik, the Fire Bearer whom she shares a magical Bond.
The books in the series from first to last are Air Awakens, Fire Falling, Earth’s End, Water’s Wrath, and Crystal Crowned.
My thoughts are split into several categories to keep them organized and to creatively utilize the titles of the books. You should also take a moment to oogle the cover art because it’s amazing. Spoilers for all five books.
Air Awakens on the Dramatic Prose
There were several instances where I stopped and reread a line, but different lines were reread for different reasons. Some sentences were pretty. Others were dramatic. Descriptions erred in favor of purple prose and scenes erred in favor of melodrama. I argue that this added to the reading experience. Since the plot was (to me) predictable to a fault, the prose gave it that pulpy edge that I like in my entertainment. And since this series favored the romance genre over the fantasy genre, the kissing scenes were fantastic to read.
Fire Falling on the Side Characters
Main characters Vhalla and Aldrik were well-done. Then again, this is their story. But the side characters can make or break a pulpy piece of fiction. In this case, the side characters were a hit or miss. Those that missed needed a little extra oomph, Fritz in particular. I felt he fell too deeply into the Devoted Best Friend trope. He needed a reason other than Vhalla to march into battle in the north. Perhaps the narrative should have played up his lack of magical skills and used that as his excuse?
The shining stars of the side characters were Elicia and Jax. Elicia at first felt like a replacement for Laurel, who meets an untimely end in Fire Falling: Western descent, healer, close to Aldrik to the point of being a romantic rival for Vhalla. The main difference between Elicia and Laurel are that Vhalla has to earn the loyalty and trust of Elicia whereas Laurel gave it on blind faith. Elicia also has a more colorful personality which helps to set her apart from Laurel.
Jax, like Elicia, had a bit of a rocky beginning. His sense of humor didn’t get a foundation until we got to know him a little more. He was at his best in Crystal Crowned where his backstory is brought to light and it puts both him and Vhalla in scenes where they’re both uncomfortable with each other. They do get over it. I really really like how Jax was the one that talks Vhalla out of turning herself into Victor in Crystal Crowned. I also really really like how Vhalla and Jax are at a (platonic) place at the end of everything. I wish she had that same level of trust and intuition with more characters, particularly Aldrik’s never-had-a-chance romantic rival Daniel.
Earth Ends with Fraying Story Threads
Things introduced in the early books are not explained when reintroduced in later books. For instance, in Fire Falling, Vhalla gets her fortune told and it vaguely references future books in cryptic ways, as it should. However, Vhalla revisits the old fortune teller but the narrative forgot to rehash the events that happened the first time around. The result was me being the confused reader during Vhalla’s revisit in Crystal Crowned.
The series comes to a close with several plot threads left open. The arc surrounding the Knights of Jadar, for instance, doesn’t have a close. How the Solaris Empire dealt with the image of sorcerers after the events with Supreme King Victor on the throne weren’t addressed in the epilogue. My most pressing need is the fate of Daniel, who survived horrors untold and made an impossible escape once, but did he do it a second time when enemy forces marched through his homeland? The narrative mentions his probable death but a character never reports the finality of it.
Finally, there was a sub-plot wherein the human form of the Mother Goddess (the main deity of the realm) attempts to reset Fate. My issue with this sub-plot is that the world-building does not reveal a religious institution outside common swears and special events. There are no common, daily rituals for people who are vaguely religious. There is no character who (in my memory) prays to the Mother Goddess for good fortune or strength in a time of darkness. So the intervention of a real goddess was jarring and the overall ramifications were never explored.
Hell Hath No Fury like Water’s Wrath
Modern Feminist Ideals interacted with the Renaissance-esque world and it made me SO happy. I don’t remember specific instances from throughout the series, but I remember being awed by the feminism shown in Air Awakens and that same attitude continuing throughout the series. It comes out in Prince Baldair, known for bringing women back to his bed but is also super big on consent and punishing those who violate others. It comes out when Vhalla’s father tells Aldrik that his daughter can marry whomever she wants with or without his permission. It was especially loud when Vhalla goes off the rails to Aldrik’s aunts when they say her greatest duty is producing an heir. Vhalla’s speech clarifies that she and she alone is capable of defeating Supreme King Victor and Aldrik should be the one to stay behind to reproduce since he’s the one with the bloodline that has to continue.
The series as a whole embraces feminism in a way I wish more literature did. And it added to my enjoyment of it. I didn’t realize it as I was reading, but I am more inclined to like a book if the underlying philosophical ideas of the characters and their motivations line up with my own moral standards.
Crystal Crowned the One-Sided Villains
I feel the series’ biggest weakness was the villains. There were two major villains. The first is Emperor Solaris, a power-hungry war machine bent on conquest. The narrative almost paints him as an abuser in regards to his treatment of Vhalla, but one of the strongest characteristics of abusers is no one believes an abuser can possibly be an abuser. That did not come out in the narrative. It was too easy for other characters to say “This is not right, my lord.” So Emperor Solaris lacked that depth of character.
The second main villain was Victor, leader of the Black Tower and later usurper of the throne to become Supreme King Victor. His potential as a villain rested on the idea that sorcerers were shunned by non-magic wielders and he wanted to create a world where sorcerers were the rulers and were feared by the common folk. And yet he was too much of a textbook villain to get any of that depth. His court was borne from extreme violence and his actions as Supreme King made it all too easy to hate him.
Despite my criticisms, this series is an addictive read. It helps that all five books are affordable ebooks (which is how I read them). I definitely squee’d through most of my reading time. This series was accompanied by the impression that life was getting in the way of reading, and that’s a good thing to have in a book.
Author Elise Kova keeps an active presence on social media. You can check out her website (and upcoming new series!) at EliseKova.com.
The Air Awakens Quintet is recommended to people who enjoy feminist heroes and people who like ]romance elements trumping fantasy elements. Would give this book to someone as young as middle school-aged.