Book Review: The Waking Land by Callie Bates
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
The Waking Land by Callie Bates
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Del Rey (June 27, 2017)
Length: 400 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
The Waking Land is a gorgeous new fantasy novel from debut author Callie Bates, and it was on my wishlist long before I had the opportunity to read it. There are just certain types of stories, while not entirely groundbreaking or new to the genre, that are just irresistible to me, and this is one of them. The book encompasses a lot of the elements I love, including a courageous heroine, an evocative magic system tied to the living earth, and a complex world built upon the political alliances and animosities between various kingdoms.
Things get off to a rather intense start, with the prologue opening on the scene of an interrupted dinner party. Our protagonist Elanna Valtai, five years old at this point, watches as her nurse is murdered in front of her eyes. Meanwhile, King Antoine and the rest of his royal guards are storming the house downstairs, putting an end to her father’s rebellion. To ensure no more attempted uprisings, Elanna’s parents are banished back to their ancestral home of Caeris, while Elanna herself is seized as a hostage, to be raised in the king’s household in Eren.
Fourteen years pass. For all that she is an outsider and the daughter of a known traitor, Elanna has been treated well by King Antoine, whom she regards and loves as a father. She has not seen her real parents since the night of the party, and Eren has become the only place she feels at home. In fact, she even has her future all planned out; once she comes of age, the king will send her off to study botany, where she will hone her gift of working with plants.
But then one day, King Antoine sickens and dies. And unfortunately, his heir Princess Loyce has never accepted Elanna, always ridiculing her for her Caerisian heritage. Worse, it has been ruled that the king died of poisoning, and being the botanical expert, Elanna is the number one suspect. With no other choice left to her, our protagonist is forced to flee back to her homeland and reunite with her estranged blood kin. It is there, however, where she discovers the truth about her birthright and the mysterious magical powers she always knew she had—and with that knowledge, she must lead a rebellion against the very kingdom to which she once pledged her loyalty.
While I realize this was not the most original plot, I didn’t care; books like The Waking Land are usually well represented in my reading repertoire despite their familiar elements, simply because I always know I’ll have a good time with them and they remind me of why I love the genre. Plus, there are certain aspects which were handled extremely well, like the world-building and magic. Under Bates’ deft touch, some of these well-known tropes are transformed into something slightly different—just enough to offer a bit of flavor without too much distraction. Take Elanna’s powers, for example. Earth magic is certainly nothing new in fantasy, but nevertheless, I enjoyed how the story introduced fresh context for it by incorporating some unique history and lore. Likewise, the conflicts between the kingdoms were interesting. After all, it’s rare to meet a heroine whose loyalties are torn in such a way, her dual roles of dutiful daughter vs. brainwashed hostage giving the political landscape a whole new dynamic.
Speaking of which, Elanna was a great character. At nineteen, she is dealing with a lot of “new adult” type problems on top of being accused of regicide, so it’s a bit of an emotional journey. The occasional moment of angst aside though, I found her to be likeable and down-to-earth (no pun intended). Undoubtedly, the author’s biggest challenge was to make Elanna’s transition from one side to the other believable, and I think for the most part Bates succeeded. Gradually, her protagonist’s eyes are opened to see beyond her upbringing, letting her take control of her own life and decide for herself what she wants to do.
In terms of criticisms, I only have a few, and none of them are deal breaking. I felt the pacing was a little off in places, especially with the amount of filler in the middle. There was also a romance plot that was emotionally flat and did little for me, its only saving grace being the fact that it probably wasn’t meant to be a big part of the story. I also wish that we’d gotten to see more of Elanna’s powers in the first half of the novel, though in all fairness, the book ultimately makes up for that with an epic magical showdown in the ending.
When all is said and done, I very much enjoyed this book. The Waking Land is not out to reinvent the wheel as far as the premise or the story goes, but I was nonetheless delighted and satisfied with the way it turned out. Callie Bates has concocted a magically captivating tale that will draw you in from the very first page, exactly the kind of fantasy novel I crave. A strong protagonist, an entertaining plot, and a well-crafted world are all reasons why this would make a great pick for any fantasy reader, especially if you enjoy a dash of enchantment and magic. The author has a bright future ahead of her, and I look forward to her next project.
Don’t you just love it when a book hits all the right notes with you? I love that feeling…
Absolutely, and it’s even better when they’re unexpected 😀
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Sometimes not “reinventing the wheel” is not so important if you have characters you care for and whose journey is compelling. 🙂
This one sounds like the kind of book that’s perfect for losing yourself in and enjoying the story it wants to tell. Thannks for sharing!
Agreed, I mean…I’m always interested in trying new books and seeing what new and cool ideas authors come up with. But a lot of the times, something down-to-earth and traditional works out for me just as well. They’re familiar and comforting, like a favorite warm sweater 😀
I’m glad to read your positive review, because I’ve read several negative reviews of this book. I can’t remember at the moment why those readers didn’t like it, but you make it sound tempting!
It’s not exactly the most original and the character can be very naive sometimes, but it fits with the story and the book overall was a very fun read! I think you would enjoy this one 🙂
I’m reading The Waking Land right now, with 120-ish pages to go, and so far I agree with all of your points. It’s vivid and absorbing, and I think a big reasons for that is Bates’ use of first-person present tense… which is an unusual choice for adult fantasy, but for this story it works. And I like Elanna a lot as a character, too, and can understand why she feels so conflicted between the two countries for the first half of the book.
I have to ask, though… What did you think of Denis?
I hope you’re enjoying it! As I remember, the book pulled me in right away, but the middle kind of slowed down a bit, which is around where you are now so I’m curious to hear your thoughts. I actually didn’t notice much about the tense, but then maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of YA that uses the first person present lately! And Denis…I don’t know if I can tell you might thoughts about him without revealing any spoilers, because everything I want to say kinda has ties to the way things ended 😛
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I didn’t have much trouble with the middle, tbh. Though I’m wavering a bit on the romance now, only because I don’t feel like I know Jahan well enough…
If I have seen it around I have forgotten that…interesting
It’s out this week, so you should be seeing it more now! 😀
I love the look and sound of this book – I’ve had it on my wishlist for ages. Good to read such a positive review.
I really enjoyed it! It was just very pleasant and uncomplicated…sometimes that’s just what I need 🙂
Ooh, this makes me hopeful I’ll like this. I got an ARC in a subscription box!
Ooh, that’s awesome! I hope you’ll enjoy it 😀
I really want to check this out. The earth magic/botany aspect really appeals to me.
Hope you get to check it out! And I also love earth magic and any kind of magic that deals with nature 🙂
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Well worn tropes done well are the BEST. And I agree the ones that are represented here are some of my favorites. I’ve had my eye on this one so I’m really glad it got your seal of approval!!
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