What does it mean to make a choice to kill? What about making an oath that forces you to always protect or find someone and kill them? Would you do everything it takes, even murder, for your faith?
Coming out next month is young-adult writer Naomi Hughes’ Mercurial, which answers these questions and more. This book was available at NetGalley for immediate reading and I am so glad I picked it up!
Following a brother-sister duo who are at odds because the brother is the sworn bodyguard to the Empress’ sister, the Destroyer, Mercurial is a enjoyable, engrossing read with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.
Check out the beautifully illustrated cover and read on to learn why this is a must read for fantasy readers.
Everyone in the Alloyed Empire fears the Destroyer. The metal in her blood gives her incendiary powers, and the coldness in her heart makes her the empress’s perfect weapon…until a rebel attack leaves her with no magic and no memories.
Tal is a royal bodyguard who has long since regretted his idealistic hopes of changing the Destroyer. Now that she’s powerless, he plans to finally end her reign of terror—if he can stop himself from falling for the wicked, funny, utterly unfamiliar girl she’s become.
Nyx was furious when her brother, Tal, abandoned her to protect a tyrant. Now, she hones herself as a rebel assassin until she can kill the Destroyer and rescue Tal. But the closer she gets, the more she realizes the entire empire hinges on the decisions the three of them will make…
While there won’t be spoilers in this review for Mercurial, there are some content warnings. What I like about NetGalley and many of the writers who provide books to review on the site, is that they’re all on the same page about providing content warnings to readers so the they can choose to engage with a book or not! Moving forward all my book reviews will do the same.
Obviously as this is a fantasy setting about assassins and the main character Tal uses a sword, stabbings, attempts at assassination, and other violence make up a a lot of the action. There’s also religious martyrdom, prison conditions which are not pleasant, lots of descriptions of blood and injuries, bad parents (like…really bad parents), and since the Destroyer’s magic is fire, there’s a lot of that going on. Finally there is a drowning that is described but you’ll know it’s coming when you get to it.
What I Loved
From the start, Hughes worldbuilding and description of the characters drew me in. Right away I wondered why the Destroyer is her sister’s (the Empress) weapon and whether or not her health issues are of her family’s making. Once she loses her memory, it’s almost like she’s a different character entirely, which makes her more sympathetic, and thus the relationship between her and Tal, who has sworn (with magic!) to protect her, even more fraught because as the synopsis says, his sister Nyx tries to kill her. Oops.
Throughout the book we get to see through all three of their eyes and therefore their emotions which makes the story hinging on three people even more intriguing. If it was just Tal or just Nyx, we wouldn’t get the same effect. Elodie’s memory loss is fascinatingly written since, as the reader knows, she’s a violent person. Still, you can’t help but root for her (and Tal) and Nyx who has sworn (with magic!) to kill Elodie.
Additionally, the romance growing between Tal and Elodie is incredibly realistic, does not feel like it was forced in because the genre calls for it, and as they’re both adults when the plot really gets going, their interactions also feel relatable for any aged reader.
As you might imagine, this is now a problem. The book takes the reader through an intense journey with these three characters who ultimately must figure out a way to work together if they’re to ever survive.
Oh and that reveal about Elodie? I screeched.
Not having reviewed a book for The Fandomentals since 2017, this was the best first book to get me started again.
What I Wanted
Just a bit more worldbuilding because I love details. What we get is enough to answer any major questions, but I’d love a whole section on how the metalsmithing and magic work together because there’s just so much to pull from!
Would I Read Again
Hughes’ portrayal of three people who never really signed up (on purpose) for their current lives and the budding romance between Tal and Elodie is beautifully set against a dangerous Empire. And lest you worry about this being entirely hetero, without spoiling you, I can say that is not the case. Nyx too is well-rounded and if we do get a sequel…well…I really hope it follows her and Helenia, one of the people from Tal and Nyx’ life.
So would I read it again? Definitely! I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one go. I’m sure once I do reread it, I’ll pick up on details I missed the first go-round. I recommend this to any readers who like romance, adventure in a fantasy setting (especially magic), strong characters, and 20 something year old’s trying to save their world when they would rather be doing anything but that.
Images courtesy of Naomi Hughes.
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