In the city of Solarin, the capital of the great Solaris Empire, Vhalla Yarl works as an apprentice in the palace library, and is happy and satisfied with the way her life is unfolding; close friends, a job she loves, and plenty of time to read – what more could she ask for? Until one day she inadvertently saves the life of Crown Prince Aldrik, and her life becomes a lot more complicated. Drawn into a world of danger and sorcery, Vhalla must decide what is truly most important to her, and where her loyalties lie.
Comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender are inevitable with this book, and the influence of the series on the setting are certainly very evident, from the race-based elemental magic system (complete with special names for sorcerers who manipulate each element, e.g. Firebearers, Waterrunners, etc.), to the way the different elemental races have interacted through history. The Solaris Empire is Air Awakens‘ answer to the aggressive, militant Fire Nation of Avatar, and there’s even a character who’s known (informally) as the Fire Lord (though thankfully he bears little resemblance to Fire Lord Ozai). Part of me is even expecting that in future instalments in the series, Vhalla will miraculously discover the ability to control all the elements, and in doing so become the Avatar! (I’m only joking. It’d be quite a surprise if that actually happened.)
So, minus a few points for originality, but for the most part these similarities are really only surface-deep. The story itself (in this book, at least) doesn’t appear to have much in common with Avatar, and nor does it seem like the series is moving in that direction, either in terms of plot development or character development. But now onto my un-Avatar-related feelings about the book:
Elise Kova’s writing style is excellent, and had me hooked from page one. In terms of plot, Air Awakens seems to mainly be concerned with introducing the characters and building their relationships, and setting the stage for some serious plot action which will presumably kick off in Fire Falling. I really enjoyed this; I’m a huge fan of slow-burn stories, and everything that happened in Air Awakens felt like it was happening at a very natural pace. Towards the end of the book, we do get a taster of the action to come, and it was very promising.
And Kova has also managed to create some really wonderful characters! Vhalla was a great, sympathetic lead, and the two princes, Aldrik and Baldair, contrasted one another delightfully. I’m definitely more of an Aldrik fan, as he’s undoubtedly the prince we get to know best over the course of the book, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about Baldair – the so-called Heartbreaker Prince – as the series goes on; I have a hunch that there’s a lot that we haven’t been told about him, and while Vhalla still seems to be too dazzled to look deeper, I’m hopeful that that will not continue to be the case. The only characters I didn’t really like so much were Vhalla’s friends Roan and Sareem, though I did appreciate the way that her relationships with each of them influenced Vhalla throughout the book. (And, speaking of relationships… the romance in this book? Yes, please.)
In short: An excellently-written and exciting story, full of great characters and relationships, and set to an equally great backdrop, with the promise of even greater things to come. I hope to be picking up the sequel reasonably soon.