The Waking Land
By Callie Bates
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.
Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.
But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.
I want to note that I chose not to label this as YA for this review. There is one scene in particular that I feel pushes that boundary.
Lady Elanna has spent the last 14 years being raised by her captor, King Antoine. During that time she has come to accept him as a father and embrace their way of life. But when the King passes under mysterious circumstances Elanna soon discovers that she is the prime suspect. A decision to flee will bring her face to face with a home and family she no longer knows. As she returns to the land of her childhood, a magic she has kept buried is beginning to awaken. Now that a battle is about to begin El must decide whether she will embrace her truth and fight for the land or uphold her allegiance to the home she was raised in?
The Waking Land is an aspiring debut novel that brings many promising attributes to the forefront. With a distinct magic system and ambitious plot, there is a lot of expectation. While I was able to find a strong admiration for what Bates was attempting to accomplish, it ultimately failed to deliver a fully engaging experience.
I found my connection with the characters to be impeded by my general dislike for the majority of them. However, I did manage to muster a decent amount of appreciation for Elanna as an individual. She was flawed and somewhat infuriating at times, but I felt this lent a lot of credibility to her. She exhibits many signs of Stockholm syndrome, as she has come to care for her kidnapper, the King. The life he has provided her is all she has known. I found her emotions to have been adequately divided between confusion, grief and anger. Overall, she is well-developed but something was missing. The supporting characters fell short of the mark. There is a lack of depth and many unanswered questions. I found El’s biological parents to be exasperating for reasons I cannot reveal.
While the world that Bates has constructed does coincide well with the magic system and El’s use of the land, I found that there was still a large portion that felt unexplored. There are gaps in the supplied history and a few stones left unturned. The magic is noteworthy being reminiscent of an elementalist, but never fully explored. The dialect was also an issue of note. The setting was presented as historical and beautifully described through details of garments and homes (I was imagining late 1800s), yet the language felt too modern. I would find myself settling in only to be yanked back out by an odd comment or choice of words. Everything felt rushed. This is not to discredit the fact that it was more original. I just wanted to know more and there wasn’t more.
The writing is disjointed at times, but when Bates gets into a rhythm it really flows, creating an easy read. There is a lot of good to be found within The Waking Land but just not enough time dedicated to each aspect which left me torn. I would be inclined to read more from Bates, as I believe her writing can and will evolve into something great if she continues. I would recommend this to someone who is looking for an introduction to fantasy.
*I would like to thank Del Rey for this ARC. The above review is my own, unbiased opinion.