Today I am joining the Escapists Tours blog tour for The Rarkyn’s Familiar by Nicky Lee, which is the first book in The Rarkyn Trilogy – and what a fantastic book it is! Please do check out the other blogs taking part in the tour!
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
An orphan bent on revenge. A monster searching for freedom. A forbidden pact that binds their fates together.
Lyss has heard her father’s screams; smelled the iron-tang of his blood. She’s witnessed his execution.
And plotted her revenge.
Then a violent encounter traps Lyss in a blood-pact with a rarkyn from the otherworld and imbues her with the monster’s forbidden magic. A magic that will erode her sanity. To break the pact, she and the rarkyn must journey to the heart of the Empire. All that stands in their way are the mountains and the Empire’s soldiers—and each other.
But horrors await them on the road, horrors even rarkyns fear. The most terrifying monster isn’t the one Lyss travels with…
It’s the one that’s awoken inside her.
This was a book that caught me by surprise in all the best ways.
Firstly though I have to say that I absolutely love the cover, which was the first thing that caught my eye about The Rarkyn’s Familiar – it just drew me in, and now having read the book, I love it even more. There is also a map, which as everyone knows gets an instant bonus point for me. However, I entered this one with a little trepidation because I am a little hit or miss with ‘YA’. I needn’t have worried, while this book is perfect for that target audience, it does so much that will make it appeal to a much wider audience and I loved it.
I have to talk about the worldbuilding first because Lee has created a fantastic world in The Rarkyn’s Familiar. I always enjoy books that explore ‘the otherworld’ and Lee takes that to another level here, weaving the otherworld, and the creatures that exist because of the substance that is found there, with the human world on multiple levels. It was there in the little details from the laws forbidding summoning creatures that were above your level, to parts being sold in a shop, and also the variety in these aetherlings that are encountered throughout the book. Then there are the Rarkyn themselves who straddle the boundary between the two, able to slip between the two worlds as long as they are in control of their magic, which feels a lot more natural in many ways, than that of the humans. The humans also have magic, but it is much more structured and complicated, although the use of runes is fascinating. It also contrasts in that human magic is very tightly controlled by a mage-dominated military.
I also like that there is no clear cut black and white. Yes, there is an element of humans vs creatures, but The Rarkyn’s Familiar takes that idea and turns it on its head, twisting and turning it over and over, until it’s a lot harder to say just who is the monster. We have the military who can be a threat to those who can use magic outwith their rules, and we have a Rarkyn that becomes friends and found family to a human – a human who faces destruction and becoming a monster herself if they can’t break the bond that binds them. It made for a gripping read, especially as the questions about ‘who was the monster’ become a lot more complicated with friendship and almost familial ties muddy the water, and Lee deals with it masterfully.
The characters were another highlight of this book for me. Firstly, we have multiple POVs which is something I always enjoy, and Lee makes it even better by having one of the POVs being the ‘villain’. It’s always great to have that kind of incite, and Lee manages to tread that fine line of keeping him as an antagonist and villain, but also letting us explore his reasoning and how he came to this point, and making us care. However, Lyss and Skaar really stole the show for me, both are written with a great depth and a lot of emotions – again playing with that question of monster vs human, as we have both sides of the spectrum and very blurred boundaries with these two, and I loved how Lee brings them together, developing their friendship through experience and events and it was great to see the shift from ‘allied by circumstances’ and not trusting one another to more. The side characters were well-written too, and each one added something vital to the story – also there was a bear-person and I was so happy to see that (and she may be one of my favourites because I am biased).
The writing and pacing were wonderful, a great combination of action and emotional moments, both of which had me on the edge of my seat at times. Lee has done a stellar job with The Rarkyn’s Familiar, and I had so much fun reading this book and as I said above, this is a book that will appeal to a wide audience, the worldbuilding is great, the story is captivating and plays with interesting questions. This was a strong debut, and a fantastic start to a series I will be keeping a close eye on.
Nikky Lee is an award-winning author who grew up as a barefoot 90s kid in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country. She now lives in Aotearoa New Zealand with a husband, a dog and a couch potato cat. In her free time she writes speculative fiction, often burning the candle at both ends to explore fantastic worlds, mine asteroids and meet wizards. She’s had over two dozen stories published in magazines, anthologies and on radio. Her debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar—an epic tale of a girl bonded to a monster—was published with Parliament House Press in April 2022.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.