Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Philomel (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 448
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at IRA
Chronicling the rise of the Keepers, this is the stunning prequel to Andrea Cremer's internationally bestselling Nightshade trilogy!It's no big secret that I love Andrea Cremer's books - her debut, NIGHTSHADE, was my book obsession of 2010, and I enjoyed the whole series so I was very much looking forward to reading RIFT when I heard about it and knew it was a prequel series. The nice thing about RIFT, as a prequel, is that you can read it without having read the NIGHTSHADE series books, but if you have read them, you'll see some of the connections being made hundreds of years in the past. I have to say that I think this was my favorite of Andrea Cremer's books and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Sixteen-year-old Ember Morrow is promised to a group called Conatus after one of their healers saves her mother's life. Once she arrives, Ember finds joy in wielding swords, learning magic, and fighting the encroaching darkness loose in the world. She also finds herself falling in love with her mentor, the dashing, brooding, and powerful Barrow Hess. When the knights realize Eira, one of their leaders, is dabbling in dark magic, Ember and Barrow must choose whether to follow Eira into the nether realm or to pledge their lives to destroying her and her kind.
With action, adventure, magic, and tantalizing sensuality, this book is as fast-paced and breathtaking as the Nightshade novels.
I'm a sucker for strong female main characters, and Ember is a kick-butt heroine who is strong and determined (another trademark of Cremer's books). She's not willing to just go along with the status quo, she wants a better (and more interesting) life for herself. She does have vulnerability, too, in fact, the relationship she builds with her horse is really special. I'm not normally a horse person, but the way in which their horses were their own characters in this story, and so important to the people, added a dimension of relationships to this story that was unexpected. As per usual in Andrea Cremer's books, there is a cast of intriguing, entertaining, maddening, and interesting supporting characters as well.
There is also action in this book with the training scenes and the fighting, but I was almost wishing there were more training scenes. I wanted more fighting with the awesome weapons that come up in this story and the way in which Ember was trained by Barrow was a great way to build tension and develop their relationship. Speaking of their relationship, one thing I was wondering was how old Barrow actually is. Ember is 16, and this takes place a long time ago, but I was picturing Barrow as quite a bit older, so I was having a bit of trouble believing the relationship. Early on in the my reading the book, I asked on twitter because it was throwing me off, and Andrea responded that Barrow is 23. That helped me in reading RIFT because he seemed a lot older to me at first (to which Andrea Cremer reminded me on twitter that he was "raised in a militant order so he has more gravitas than a typical lad"). I have to say, he may be one of the most considerate romantic leads I've read recently. He's a good guy in a time when we need more good guys in YA books!
One of the things I really like about Andrea Cremer's writing is that I am instantly sucked into these worlds she creates, and I don't want to leave them. I experienced it with NIGHTSHADE, WOLFSBANE, and BLOODROSE, and I experienced it again with RIFT. She definitely knows how to write some great scenes with romances developing, while still staying appropriate for younger teens, too. Cremer also builds a world well-steeped in history, and it comes across as well-researched and accurate (which I know was kind of her day job that she has a PhD in, so that makes sense), but still interesting and drawing me further into the story. I did notice (which I remembered from the last series) that there are quite a few scenes of conversations that serve as exposition and I have to remember to pay careful attention to them so I know what's going on with the backstory/history of the world, but as long as I remember that, I can stay in tune with the story. One concern I did have was that I thought one of the major plot points was a little predictable, or maybe obviously foreshadowed, but then when I read the synopsis, I realized it mentions it, so it's not meant to be that much of a surprise.
RIFT is just as good as NIGHTSHADE (if not better), but a totally different kind of story. The historical world of this fiction is well-drawn. I really, really liked some of these characters and the relationship journey that Ember takes in this book. I also liked the completeness of this as a book on its own, but also how it clearly sets up for what comes next, but it didn't feel like a cliffhanger ending that would make me crazy - it has its own ending that feels complete. But, I still can't wait to read the next book in this series, RISE, releasing in January!