Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in the Five kingdoms. She is the only person alive who can create spectorium, a powerful element coveted for its energy and powerful properties.
When Sepora’s father weaponizes spectorium, Sepora chooses to leave her kingdom in secret and disappear rather than help him start a war. Across the border in Theoria, Sepora plans to live a quiet and anonymous life while hiding her Forging from prying eyes. Until she is captured and forced into service for Theoria’s king.
Tarik is young to be king and feels unready for the responsibilities that come with the title, especially as he has to deal with a mysterious plague sweeping through Theoria’s people with alarming speed. His efforts to track down a cure are complicated by a distracting new servant.
When Sepora and Tarik meet they form an immediate bond and an unlikely friendship could lead to much more. Sepora’s Forging could save Tarik’s kingdom but if her father finds her, it could also lead to war across the Five Kingdoms in Nemesis (2016) by Anna Banks.
Nemesis is the first book in Banks’ new duology which will conclude with Ally.
Nemesis introduces an interesting world filled with unique cultures that nod to ancient civilizations (Theoria places their dead in giant pyramids waiting for the day their scientists learn to conquer death) and science that comes close to magic. Unfortunately most of these elements are introduced through dense informational passages that make the opening of this novel feel clunky. And even worse, a lot of the world building in this book is just plain problematic.
The novel alternates between Sepora’s first person narration in a stilted style that rarely uses contractions and Tarik’s third person narrative. The transition from first to third person does little to differentiate between Sepora and Tarik’s narrative voices and instead creates a jarring transition between chapters.
Sepora is a thoughtful protagonist. She struggles with the choice to leave her home and what it will mean for her kingdom and beyond as spectorium disappears. Her moral dilemmas are portrayed throughout the book with careful thought and her growth throughout the novel is handled quite well.
Unfortunately some remarks about other kingdoms lack that same forethought. Throughout Nemesis the Wachuk kingdom is described as primitive because the people their have chosen to eschew verbal language because actions, as it were, speak louder. The Wachuks use sign language and some sounds described alternately as clicks, growls and grunts. The commonality for every descriptor is that they are described as primitive. Readers never see what Wachuk life actually looks like. The idea that being non-verbal makes the Wachuk’s primitive is never challenged or even explored in any meaningful way on the page. None of the characters have a teachable moment about it. Lingots, Theorians who are able to discern lies from truths and interpret languages, can understand the Wachuk but again that never leads to any deeper revelations.
This bias where different is equated with primitive/inferior is compounded with the portrayal of the Parani. In Serubel, parents tell their children about the Parani as a cautionary tale to keep them out of the dangerous water nearby. The Parani live underwater and are rumored to be able to kill a person in moments. They have tough skin, webbed fingers, and sharp teeth. Sepora also learns firsthand that they are humanoid in appearance and capable of comprehension, reasoning, and language (in the form of high pitched sounds that again do not resemble “typical” words and therefore must be “primitive”). Everyone else in the five kingdoms views the Parani as animals to be avoided or, if encountered, killed before they can attack. Or eaten. Again meaningful realizations that the Parani are people become sidelined by the Lingots’ magical ability to understand them despite the Parani being crucial to the story.
There is a lot in Nemesis that works well. Sepora is an engaging if sometimes misguided heroine and Tarik is an entertaining foil/love interest. The premise of the story is intriguing if not the most highly developed. Unfortunately the combination of stock secondary characters, poorly integrated world building details, and badly handled misconceptions about “primitive” or “other” characters take this potentially fun story and make it incredibly problematic and often painful.
Readers looking for a story with star-crossed lovers and/or nuanced fantasy would be better served elsewhere.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, And I Darken by Kiersten White
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*