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On The Shelf: ‘Crystal Blade’ by Kathryn Purdie

Credit: Katherine Tegen Books

‘Sup readers? Welcome back to On The Shelf, Fan Fest’s weekly book column. If you’ve stumbled onto this by accident, here’s the deal: as much as you want a library to rival The Beast’s, it’s likely that you only have a finite amount of space. Readers know this dilemma well; whether you have one small shelf in the corner or an entire room dedicated to books, the truth of the matter is your TBR (to-be-read) pile is a constant fixture in your life, especially when new books are constantly being released. Hence On The Shelf: every week, I pick a newly-released book (there are no limits on genre, or even type of book. I’ve run the gamut with collected comics, graphic novels, YA, contemporary, mystery/thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, etc.) and let you know my thoughts on it. Does it deserve to shine on your shelf among your favourites, or is it best saved as an ebook purchase? Honestly, one time, I flat-out refused to recommend a book, so at the very least, you know I’m honest with my tastes and critique.

Anyway.

This week’s read is a first for On The Shelf. Usually, I scrutinize standalones or the first book in a series. This week, we’re jumping on into a sequel: Crystal Blade, the second book in the Burning Glass trilogy by Kathryn Purdie. The first thing I noticed about Crystal Blade is how much smaller it is than its predecessor. Most books in YA series tend to up the page-count as they go on, but the opposite is true here. Burning Glass is 490 pages, while Crystal Blade rings in at 359 (both the physical hardcover editions).

If you haven’t read Burning Glass, you should probably do that, come back, and tell me what you thought. If you’re already caught up, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this review. In case you’re in the middle camp (you read Burning Glass and enjoyed it, but you completely forgot that Crystal Blade was coming out and so neglected to reread the first book in its entirety prior to the release of the second)— well, I can’t blame you. I, too, am in the middle camp. While I didn’t have time to reread Burning Glass and then pick up Crystal Blade in time for the publication of this column, I did fly through the last couple of chapters of Burning Glass just to refresh my memory. Spoilers abound for the first book follow, so if you haven’t read Burning Glass, please do that:

Good. Okay, so, if you need a crash-course in the world of Burning Glass: Sonya Petrova, the main character of this trilogy, is an Auraseer, which means she can feel the emotions of everyone around her. She was tasked with reading the emotions of those at court and protecting the emperor of the kingdom of Riaznin (Valko) from threats to his person (there were a lot of threats. Valko isn’t a likeable guy), which was kind of a big deal because being Sovereign Auraseer is a lifelong obligation, and also, Sonya had absolutely no grasp on her powers. None. Then of course, there was a love triangle in which Sonya (who wasn’t sure how to feel because she literally feels everything everyone else is feeling, which made her own emotions almost moot) was caught between the Emperor Valko, and his revolutionary younger brother, Prince Anton, who is totally team #TheEmpireMustFall. There was a lot of death and a lot of craziness and at the end, Sonya actually got her sh*t together and weaponized her gift. In the middle of a bloodbath between Riaznin’s angry, change-starved peasants and the empire’s soldiers, Sonya was able to shift the emotions of the people in to Valko, making him truly understand how his impoverished subjects felt. He abdicated the throne and it was agreed upon that he would be imprisoned, given a chance to a fair trial for his crimes under Riaznin’s new democratic system.

/End spoilers!

…Aaand now we’re caught up.

Fast-forward a few weeks in Purdie’s grandly-imagined fictionalized world and we’re in Crystal Blade territory. As good and idealistic as Anton’s intentions were with his hope for a true democracy, the tension between the lower and upper-classes has never been worse— and with Valko tossed in jail awaiting trial, Sonya is struggling to find her footing alongside Anton in this brave new world that doesn’t need Sovereign Auraseers. But when she is expected to be the human equivalent of a lie detector at Valko’s trial, essentially either saving his life (compromise is key) or condemning him to death (you have no idea how many peasants are living for Valko’s execution), but even that directive comes with strings attached— and Sonya’s not sure who to trust.

I really like the concept of Purdie’s trilogy. Sonya’s powers are unique, the world of Riaznin is intricately-detailed, and Purdie’s writing style is gorgeous. She remains a compelling, strong, capable voice in the landscape of YA literature. I’ve even recommended Burning Glass on Fan Fest before, though it is by no means perfect.

That said, Purdie has fixed all of the issues I had with the first book in Crystal Blade. In Burning Glass (with the exception of the ending), Sonya was a slave to her powers and other people’s emotions, oftentimes rendering herself useless, a model of inaction (and I get it in the greater context of the plot and her abilities, but still). In Crystal Blade, she comes into her own as a character and learns how to control her gift, recognizing herself as a weapon for her own means rather than a pawn to be played into someone else’s hand. Her switch from a waffling, unsteady protagonist to a dynamic, self-sufficient lead was organic and flowed naturally. I found myself more attached to and empathetic towards these characters (even Anton, who went from bland flour to snappy spice in the sequel) and their struggles. Whereas Burning Glass pretty much wrapped itself up, and you can totally pretend Sonya’s story ends with “And They All Lived Happily Ever After,” Purdie deftly weaves more complex plot strands in Crystal Blade that will rely on the last instalment in the trilogy to find closure. Purdie leaves her readers with a sense of urgency, a burning desire to know what happens next, and a whole new world of possibilities.

Honestly, this is one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in quite awhile, and I don’t know why more people aren’t buzzing about it. I can say with absolute certainty that Crystal Blade deserves a spot on the shelf (it’s definitely claimed a spot on mine!). If Crystal Blade sounds like it might scratch that itch for you, you can buy it here. Haven’t read Burning Glass yet (why did you read this if you haven’t read the first one, bro)? Buy it here.

On The Shelf rating: 4 dazzled auras out of 5.