by A.C. Gaughen
Series: The Elementae #1
Published on January 30, 2018 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.
But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.
This intense, richly drawn high-fantasy by the author of Scarlet will hold readers spellbound.
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If Reign the Earth is any indication of what’s to come this year in YA fantasy, then everyone needs to start saving up because we’re going to all be broke real soon. I started this book, made it 100 pages in and was forced to stop because I had to get some work done. . . well, I should have stopped but the book was so good that I stayed up far too late and finished it.
Before I go any further, I want to mention that this book features potentially very triggering scenes related to emotional and physical abuse (including torture). The emotional abuse, especially, is present throughout the book and it’s uncomfortable to read. None of it is glorified in any way; it’s clear that it’s meant to be viewed in a bad light and not supported in any way. With that in mind, it’s that same discomfort that made me rate this book so high.
Shaila marries a foreigner to achieve peace between her two peoples. She doesn’t necessarily want the marriage for herself, nor does she have many disillusions about marriage, but she goes through with it for her family and her people. Her relationship with her new husband, Calix, is rough. He’s a king who believes he’s a god incarnate and acts as though his will is the work of the divine. He refers to her as “wife” rather than her name the vast majority of the time. He’s verbally and emotionally abusive toward her, constantly putting her down for having original ideas or opinions. And he gets physically abusive with Shaila at one point.
I cringed. I wanted to reach out and hug Shaila. I wanted to punch Calix in the face. Several times. And yet. . . and yet I loved this book. Because Gaughen shows how someone in a toxic situation who can’t necessarily get out of it so easily can overcome it. So often in my life I’ve heard people ask “well why don’t you just leave?” But sometimes you can’t, and I know this is fantasy so the situation is not necessarily realistic to our world but it parallels in a way. Shaila is strong. Not in the physical strength sense but strong willed with a huge heart. She cares so deeply despite the potential for harm to herself. And she conquers. It’s not easy, and the road to get there isn’t pleasant, but I think that’s true for situations in real life too.
With that, there’s a consistent theme of family. Shaila’s people is very family oriented and that becomes a point of conflict between her and Calix that plays out time and again. I also loved the bit of forbidden love because I’m a sucker for it but I wouldn’t say that played a big role until later in the book. It’s definitely a slow burn and, to be honest, I wouldn’t say it worked for me COMPLETELY but I still totally ship them in future books. I just wanted a bit more development in this one since it became a bigger plot point later on.
And as for the rest of the book, I absolutely loved it. Elemental magic isn’t exactly original but I felt like Gaughen gave it new life with the combination of the history she gave the world and the amazing cast of characters. I don’t think all the characters were given the same depth as the leads so there’s definitely room to expand in future books. The same for the world. It was a good amount of detail for me for an opening book but I definitely want more in the future. The pacing is a bit inconsistent. The middle dragged at times while the beginning and end were just one thing after the next. But I was so invested in the story I barely noticed.
Reign the Earth is a dark YA fantasy. Perhaps not in the way you’d traditionally think but the topics tackled are tough to read but well worth it for those who can push through. I devoured this book in one sitting and immediately told everyone I knew they needed to order it ASAP.