Lord of the Empty Isles

One curse. Two sworn enemies. Thousands of lives in the balance.

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Pub Date 6 Jun 2024 | Archive Date 6 Jun 2024

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One curse. Two sworn enemies. Thousands of lives in the balance.
'A glorious cast of misfits that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure - even as they hold a gun to your head' KATE DYLAN

Winter's Orbit meets The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in this stunning emotional yet action-packed adult science-fiction novel, perfect for fans of found family and queer-platonic relationships.

Ash, dried flowers, and a drop of blood: Remy has all he needs to avenge his brother's death.

Five years ago, interstellar pirate Idrian Delaciel ordered a withering - a death curse - cast on Remy's brother, costing him his life. Now, Remy is ready to return the favour. Only when he casts the withering, it also rebounds onto him.

The implications are unthinkable - that Remy is fatebound to his brother's killer.

The only way to slow the curse is to close the distance between them, so Remy infiltrates Idrian's criminal crew, hiding his identity as the witherer. But Remy quickly learns that Idrian is the sole provider of life-saving supplies to thousands of innocents. And if he dies, they will perish with him.

With more at stake now than just revenge, Remy must find a way to break the curse. Too bad for him - the only way to stop a withering is to kill the witherer.

'Equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming' ESSA HANSEN

'Amidst all the magic and space-faring adventure is a stunning, thoughtful treatise on grief and love in all its forms' JULIE LEONG


'Oh gods did I love it . . . a heartwarming, eye tearing story of a found family' Reader review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

'Wow! Jules Arbeaux has crafted a masterpiece with this book' Reader review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

'A beautiful story . . . Probably my favourite book of the year so far!' Reader review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

'A magnificent debut, characterized by a heartwarming story, incredible characters, and a spectacular found family!' ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

'This was one of those books that was addicting . . . It was fast-paced and tense and I was hooked almost immediately. It was incredibly emotional and I was on tenterhooks throughout' Reader review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

One curse. Two sworn enemies. Thousands of lives in the balance.
'A glorious cast of misfits that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure - even as they hold a gun to your head' KATE DYLAN


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ISBN 9781399724975
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Average rating from 32 members

Featured Reviews

*Thank you to Hodderscape and Netgalley for the eARC! This is my honest review*

I'm going to be honest, the first think that caught my mind was the cover. I loved to colours, the quietness of it but this that vibrant tone. Then the title intrigued me, and the blurb. I am not a science-fiction fan. At all. The technologies and themes tend to push me back. But here, it wasn't a something that bothered me at all. It felt a bit like fantasy, but with high tech and spaceship and artificial moons. I love it ! Really I wasn't expecting to fall this hard for the book. But oh gods did I love it. The tethers, in their various kinds, was such a well managed and interesting take. Genarelly, these kinds of bonds are limited to romantic relatioships, which was laways somehwat of a bother to me. Here, there is all kind of bonds, linked to different part of the body, for different relationships. How refreshing and well thought !
The exploration of grief, revenge, privilege and love was amazing. Queer platonic love! I need more of that. Found family too. Amazing.
The main character and narrator, Remy, is so relatable in his flaws, hurts, loves, and how he reacts as he learns about his world, other people and himself. I want to hug him. I want to hug Idrian too, so bad.
The pacing worked really well and is a important part of why I read nearly the whole book in a day. I generally dislike fast pacing because I feel like I am being rushed everywhere without time to breathe, but in this case, it was well manage enough to have these quieter moment to process what was happening, without really grounding to a stop. Really well done!
Jules Arbeaux offers us a heartwarming, eye tearing story of a found family set on protecting their ideals and each other, with growing bonds and learning how to let go, when the time comes.

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Wow! Jules Arbeaux has crafted a masterpiece with this book. The tether system is intriguing, and created with such depth and variety. The weavers and witherers add another dimension to every relati9nship in this book.

The plot keeps you on your toes, right up until the very end. Every time you think you've got it all figured out, another puzzle piece drops into place, and the image becomes clearer.

At its heart, this is a book about family, both blood and found, and what it really means to be a good person, no matter the individual cost.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and couldn't put it down.

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For me, a sci-fi book is a hit or miss and this was an absolutely hit. I had a hard time putting it down and I really just wanted to know more about the characters and find out where the plot was going.

I won't lie, I did have a bit of trouble understanding the magical bonds and how they worked and were linked to everyone (my bad). That aside, I did love the concept of the tethers. Everyone is connected in some way, romanctic or platonic, you name it and each one of these bonds can be linked to a different part of the body (and will resemble a different relationship).

The main character, Remy, is a complex character. He has his flaws, but I loved his character growth throughout the story. Now, don't even get me started about the rest of the characters because I loved every single one of them. Idrian and his crew were just *chef's kiss*. Even if they were a little messy and chaotic, they were still incredibly loyal to each other. ++ Who doesn't love a found family.

I also found this book extremely well written and I had no trouble figuring out where the story took place. I was able to picture everything so vividly and it almost felt like I was there with the characters.

I highly recommend this book to anyone (even the people that rarely read sci-fi). I had a lot of fun reading this and I just wish there was more. I can't wait to read more books from the author.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A beautiful story with a variety of key themes - from found family, queer relationships, the impact of politics and poverty, deception and betrayal but most of all - love. While it took me a few chapters to wrap my head around tethers and how they work, once I understood I was fully in and this story took me on a ride. This is a story about how nobody is perfect. That flawed people exist and change doesn't stop them being flawed. Remy is a complex character who is learning about how the world he thought he knew doesn't actually exist. Probably my favourite book of the year so far!

This is definitely a story I will be thinking about for a long time after.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodderscape for the Arc.

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I would like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read and honestly review an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

This was incredible. End of review, that’s all. Just incredible.

But to go into more detail: this book is a flawlessly woven a sci fi story that focussed on the bonds between people, and how they can change and grow, or die and rot.
I love the magic system surrounding the tethers; the concept that the connections you have with people can be seen and held. The way this book handles grief and healing is visceral, and I couldn’t tear myself away from it.

Yeah, the sci fi elements were great, and the plot was paced well, but really the characters are the stand out here. Remy, Idrian, Tirani and Yves will stay with me a long time after this book. Each of them feels very real to me, complex in their grief and hatred but most importantly the family they find in each other.

A sci-fi journey with a focus on platonic love and grief with some fantastic a-spec representation!

4.5 ⭐️

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4.5 stars rounded up to 5

I'm a simple person — when I see found family, queer-platonic relationships and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet mentioned I'm interested, especially after seeing that stunning cover. And behold, the promises lasted.
The way this book handled relationships is so refreshing — there is no actual romance and it doesn't need it. This book perfectly shows that relationships don't need to be romantic to work. The connections between friends and family can be just as strong, if not stronger.
While I think the comparison with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is rightfully made, they both contain ragtag crews, found family and a good dose of spaceships, but they have very different vibes. Lord of the Empty Isles is significantly more grim and dystopian than its comparison. There is a high focus on the less fortunate and what it costs to let them survive, making it a less cosy but very reflective read.

My main critique is that it lacked direction in the middle. The story became more episodic. Plot-wise it did make sense, they had errands to run and lives to save, but I'm personally less interested in seeing them go on a little field trip when they have a lethal curse going on.
But the well-written character interactions did get met through it and made it a great read overall.

Thank you NetGalley and Hodderscape for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

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"Lord of the Empty Isles" is a sci-fi novel written by Jules Arbeaux, here at her debut.

A planet resurrected from the ashes of a climate disaster and controlled by a seemingly benevolent system. Three moons, once a refuge, turned into a terrible prison. A world characterized by magical bonds, which bind people together. Two sworn enemies unexpectedly bound by fate and a deadly curse. These are just some of the ingredients that make up "Lord of the Empty Isles," a compelling, heartwarming and engaging novel that completely won me over. An exciting book, full of feelings, which really warmed my heart. A tale of hatred, revenge, remorse and grief. A story of hope, forgiveness and friendship. A novel deeply focused on relationships between people, with a wonderfully touching found family and a magnificent enemies to queerplatonic relationship! I really loved everything about this book, from beginning to end, and can express nothing but kudos!

The story takes place on the planet of Verdine, resurrected from the ashes of a climatic cataclysm that killed many people and pushed the survivors to seek salvation on Alta, Fluora and Toxys, the moons around the planet. Verdine is now a thriving, verdant planet full of life, ruled by a Chancellor and subject to strict and oppressive rules. I was fascinated by this world building, simple but well-drawn, described in a vivid and evocative way. The magic system based on bonds then is incredible! In "Lord of the Empty Isles" people are bound to each other through bonds, of various colors and placed in different parts of the body, invisible to ordinary people. The color and position of the ties indicate their particular nature, their characteristics. Bonds can change, fade and even rot, which requires therapeutic treatment. There are two types of people who can use them: weavers, who can see and identify the bonds of others, except their own and those of the people they are bound to, and withers, who can cut the bonds, to the exclusion of their own, and cast a withering, a curse as deadly as it is illegal, leading to the slow and painful death of the target. Seriously, I have nothing but compliments about it!

The story proceeds fast and dynamic, full of action and events, accompanied by a brisk pace and short chapters. More frenetic scenes alternate with quieter ones, with sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking situations, in a perfect balance. The passionate narration affected me tremendously, reason for which I found myself laughing, smiling and crying out loud at alternating moments. I followed everything with great interest, without boredom or heaviness, arriving at the end fully satisfied.

Remy, protagonist with his only third person pov, won me over! Remy is a wither, parentless, deeply marked by the death of his older brother, who raised him and to whom he was very close. Remy lives consumed by grief, regrets, and the desire for revenge. In fact, his brother was struck by a withering, which killed him slowly and painfully, ordered by the interstellar pirate Idrian Delaciel. Remy wants to kill him with the same curse, he drags himself forward thanks to this purpose, until he gets the final ingredient: the blood of the criminal himself. Too bad that when he casts the spell, the unthinkable happens: he discovers that he is fatebound to his brother's killer, which makes him cursed in turn. Since the only way to slow the curse is to stay close, Remy sets out to find Idrian, setting events in motion. Remy is a complex and tormented character portrayed fantastically! I felt a lot of his suffering, his inner conflicts, and I loved his healing journey, his evolution.

And what can I say about the other characters?! I loved them all! From Tirani, weaver and Remy's best friend, to Idrian and his criminal crew. They are involving, complicated and well portrayed characters with whom I connected a lot. Tirani impressed me with her goodness, her dedication and her loyalty to Remy. Idrian and his gang captivated me with their being morally gray, forced into difficult choices and wrong actions, with which they have to live. In general, they are all broken characters, marked by losses or painful events, who find in their group, their friendship and their purpose, the strength to continue.  As mentioned above, the found family that develops in this book is wonderful! The way in which Remy at first reluctantly approaches Idrian and his crew, full of hatred and prejudice, and then slowly begins to open up touched me deeply. Seriously, the queerplatonic relationships in this book are pure emotion and I found myself sobbing repeatedly reading certain scenes!

All in all, "Lord of the Empty Isles" is a magnificent debut, characterized by a heartwarming story, incredible characters, and a spectacular found family! I can't wait to read more from the author!

Thank you to the Publisher and NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This was one of those books that was addicting. I read it straight through pretty much. It was fast-paced and tense and I was hooked almost immediately. It was incredibly emotional and I was on tenterhooks throughout.

The portrayal of relationships and bonds between people is fascinating and heartfelt. There is no main romance in this book and it didn't matter, the relationships and emotions between the main cast of characters are far more impactful than I feel a romantic relationship would have been. There is so much emotion in this book but it doesn't overwhelm the story.

The start of the novel was a tiny bit rocky, right of the bat I wasn't super keen about Remy but that changed fairly quickly and the writing itself was impossible to pull away from. This book is very focused on the characters and their dynamics with one another but it is by no means lacking in plot. A lot is going on in this novel and neither the plot nor the character development suffers because of the detail invested in the other. The action scenes are succinct and dynamically paced and very easy to understand and get through. The chapters alternated between slow and meandering and incredibly fast-paced and packed full of action and it worked incredibly well. The chapters were also fairly short which I believed helped with the face and ease of reading. The one thing I wish was developed slightly more is the world-building. Whilst we are told a lot about the world this story takes place in, I still feel like there's a lot left still to be said and I wish it were a little bit more expansive.

The set up of this story is grim and a little desolate, there are very little true 'joyful' moments in this but the ones that there are hit all the harder.

This was exactly the kind of sci fi I love and it was a beautiful, incredibly well-written debut and I'm excited to read more by this author in the future. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

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An incredible, gut-wrenching story full of hope and loss and love, LORD OF THE EMPTY ISLES was a masterpiece. The genre-bending was incredible and the world and magic that Arbeaux crafted was utter perfection. This book shattered me and put me back together stronger than before. I fell in love with Idrian, Remy, and the found family gathered around the both of them. It was also incredible to read such a gorgeous queerplatonic story with ace rep.

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First, I saw the cover and thought, "I need this book on my shelf." Then I read the blurb and decided that I needed this story in my head. Now, after I’ve read the last page, I simply can’t get it out of my head anymore.

Lord of the Empty Isles is a book that will dare you to put it down. Every page will guide you to the next, making you lose your sense of time and space as Jules Arbeaux fully immerses you in this incredible world she has created.

If I had to boil down the plot to one line, it would probably be, "A clash between grief, love, and hope." I immediately fell in love with the characters which, while keeping me invested in the narrative, was heartbreaking because I simply wanted nothing more than to see them hug it out. But the world isn’t that simple. It never is. And aside from the colorful cast of characters and the incredible world-building, I simply kept going because I kept wanting answers to two questions: How did it come to this? Where do we go from here?

Remy and Idrian were the heart of the story for me, and the network of emotional bonds they’ve formed with the characters around them was way more satisfying and heartwarming for me personally than most of the romance subplots I usually read.

Overall, Lord of the Empty Isles is an incredible, heartwarming story set in a vivid and unique world, filled with amazing characters that will stay with you long past the final words. It’s a magnificent debut, and I can’t wait to see more of Arbeaux's work in the future.

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One of the most original and refreshing LGBTQ books I've ever read. There is absolutely nothing else like it out there. An aroace-spec and gender non-conforming lead and a glorious queer found family? In a fantasy book to boot? This is the kind of thing the sci-fi and fantasy genres should have been exploring all along! What's the point of having the entire universe at your fingertips if you stay inside rigid gender and sexuality structures? What a boring way to explore the galaxy! But this? Now, this is exciting! And not just the queer stuff, the actual story had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. So much at stake, so much adventure, and so much love to be had along the way. Jules Arbeaux has a fan for life in me!

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, Hodderscape + NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book and provide and honest review.

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I am obsessed with this book. I finished it in only two days, I couldn't stop reading.

This is a science fantasy set on planet that has been destroyed by an eco disaster in the past. To survive, the people built a couple of fake moons where they could sustain themselves for a few hundred years and by now the planet has recovered and people are living. However, to prevent another ecological disaster there are some strict rules for the living, and any criminals are sent to the empty isles, those moon.
I thought this was a very interesting setup, and the world building was clear and easy to follow, everything is explained timely without there being major infodumps.
Remy lives on the planet, and he believes the people living on the empty isles are all dangerous criminals who deserved their fate. Five years ago, his older brother, who practically raised him, died of a withering curse ordered by interstellar fugitive Idrian Delaciel. Remy has been craving revenge ever since, and now he finally has all that he needs to cast his own withering curse. The only problem with such a curse is that it also targets everyone who is fatebound to the target, a very rare kind of bond, only it turns out Remy is fatebound to Idrian. Meaning that when the curse kills Idrian, Remy also dies.
The only way to slow down the curse is to spend time around Idrian, but as they set out together and with his found family crew, Remy realizes Idrian is not the villain he always believed and the empty isles isn't filled with dangerous criminals. And if Idrian dies, the people on the Empy Isles who are dependent on his supplies will too.

This is a book about grief and revenge and how some people do bad things because they're pushed into situations where all choices are bad. It shows how the need for revenge often harms the person wanting revenge more, and shows this quite literally with Remy's withering curse backfiring onto him. It goes into some complicated politics with eco-fascisms, and has the main character learn that not everything as it seems.
I love how the book doesn't try to justify everything Idrian does. I'd say he's a good person. Not all of his actions are good, and some of the people who get hurt absolutely did not deserve this. But he was also pushed into this situation by other people, and it's not his fault that he has to make these impossible choices. It doesn't make it right, but it makes it a fault of the system too.

I loved the characters in this book, they are all very developed and felt real to me. Remy is consumed by the need for revenge, and cannot let go of his grief for his brother. Idrian wants nothing more than to keep the people on the empty isles alive, and has to make some impossible choices to do it. There's some great side characters too, and a found family ship crew. I'm especially obsessed with Yves, an inhabitant of the empty isles and the closest thing they have to a doctor.
There's a developing queer platonic relationship between Remy and Idrian, and it follow the structure of enemies to relationship in that sense only it's not romance (Remy is aroace). I think it was very well done here, it really develops in the way Remy view the world and Idrian, and it doesn't move too fast, Remy slowly learns to see that Idrian is not the person he believed. Yet at the same time he's still the person who killed his beloved brother.

I'll buy this book when it comes out and I'll probably buy anything this author writes, would recommend it to people who love the slow development sort of enemies to lovers but would like to see this with a non romantic relationship, people who love complex politics and people fighting injustice and fans of science fantasy.
It is not super sciency or difficult to understand in that sense, the science fiction part is really the space travel and the ecological world building. There's also a magic system that relates to the connections between people that I found interesting.

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Lord of the Empty Isles is a scifi-fantasy debut that was just absolutely spectacular. It’s been five years since Remy Canta’s brother died of a death curse, murdered by Remy’s once childhood idol—interstellar fugitive Idrian Delaciel. When Remy finally has the last ingredient needed to cast his own death curse on Idrian, the curse goes wrong and rebounds on himself too, linking their lifespans together. So Remy must hunt down Idrian and infiltrate his criminal crew to find a way to fix the curse before it’s too late. But as Remy gets to know Idrian, he learns that his vengeance may bring more devastating consequences than he could have imagined as Idrian is more than just the evil villain he thought him to be.

Again, I cannot emphasize how much I absolutely loved this book. But be forewarned that this may not be for everyone and some may need to be in the right mindset before reading it. The books is a devastating tale of grief and loss, of the love for family and the bonds that tie people together, and of just how far some people will go for those they love. In the midst of undercover infiltrations, interstellar heists, mysterious curses, a conspiracy to the very top of the government, and a race against the clock, the book still managed to bring me to tears so so many times with its soul.

Remy is a man still reeling from the murder of his older brother, the man who raised him and the only family he had left, and he is blinded by his hate and single-minded quest for vengeance. It was honestly gutwrenching just reading about his love for his brother and his anger for what happened that it will make you actually root for him to get his vengeance. Meanwhile, Idrian is a morally gray man who does what he does for a reason. He is a man beloved by his people for bringing them hope in their bleak existence and hated by others for what he represents. There is a certain parallel you can make with his people’s plight and what is going on in the world right now.

There is no romance here (Remy himself is actually aroace), and that is not to the book’s detriment. Instead, it features queerplatonic relationships, bonds greater than that of friends and beyond that of family or lovers. The book has a magic system of sorts involving different kinds of bonds between people (think tethers), and it demonstrates the different types of relationships from romantic to the platonic. Together, Remy and Idrian help each other grow and heal to break the cycle of violence that has lead them down their dark paths. It is about confronting their conflicts and learning to understand if not forgive the actions that have been done. There are several noteworthy scenes of them just interacting (their initial confrontation when all is revealed and another towards the end) that were so exceptionally powerful that it still manages to make me tear up just thinking about it.

Lord of the Empty Isles is a moving and devastating cozy scifi-fantasy blend featuring an aroace protagonist, a found family, and queerplatonic relationships on top of its epic scifi story. Be ready to cry.

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I loved this, it was incredibly well written, and I absolutely loved the diversity and the character representation. Having an Ace-spec and gender-non-confirming lead, found family AND queer platonic relationships?? I adore this book and am super excited to read the next part.

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This was incredible, cried my eyes out because it was so stunningly sad and beautiful and now I don't know what to do with my life anymore.

I adored every single one of the crew and the queer platonic found family dynamics; all the characters were well-developed and complex, and clearly so much thought had been put into writing them which I really appreciated. Without a doubt my favourite character was Remy, our aroace main character(!!!) - despite being on a mission for vengeance it was so obvious how much he cared, and loved life, and his grief over losing his brother was devastating and so gorgeously written. His relationship with Idrian was the highlight of the book. Also, the worldbuilding was intriguing and had the perfect haunting sci-fi atmosphere that I love.

Reading this was a heart-wrenching experience (some of the LINES, man) and the lack of romance made it that many times better. Will be recommending this forever.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy. I absolutely LOVED this one. The characters were amazingly well written, Remy is such a relatable character and the journey he goes through with his grief was incredibly well handled. I also enjoyed the ace representation in this, it is rare to see platonic relationships given such attention. In terms of plot while this has at times a 'cozy' found family vibe, it is also incredibly high stakes and heartbreaking. There is also a really cool magic system at work which is based on the bonds between people. If I have but one very minor comment, I would have liked more detail on the worlds history. Overall, I read this in a single day as I could not put it down, and I recommend to fans of sci-fi (along the winters orbit direction) and fantasy alike.

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5 ⭐️ but I would give it more if I could.

Wow. This book really just did that huh. My emotions are all over the place, I am sobbing, I am SHREDDED. This is a beautifully heart wrenching story. I read this in one sitting because I quite literally could not put it down. How is this a debut novel?! I can't say anything other than that this was incredible and I am so thankful to have read it.

I'm not usually a sci-fi reader, and I also typically always read fiction with romance elements in them. But when I read the description of this book I just knew I needed to read it. Now, this book is not a romance. But, it is a tale of the bonds that run deeper. It's a tale of love. It is a tale about grief and loss, pain and hope, found family and the most beautiful queerplatonic relationship. And oh, I could write forever on the presentation of Capitalism in this book. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like it - for me it was unique in it's beauty.

As far as the writing and organisation of the story, I found it to be phenomenal. The way that information was slowly revealed to Remy, and therefore the reader, created such a convincing and emotional journey of growth and discovery. I really like when books have epigraphs at the start of chapters, but not when they're just there for the sake of it - I found these epigraphs to really enhance the narrative and world building, and I loved that. I didn't feel confused by the world or the tether system, I found the world building to be really effective. The writing style is absolutely beautiful, almost lyrical at points, and highly engaging. The narrative was obviously fast paced due to the nature of the withering curse, but I found this to be really effective and I loved the way the story moved.

I don't think there is more that I can say, other than that this was such a beautiful book.

Thank you so very much to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for giving me the pleasure of reading this arc in exchange for an honest review. And thank you Jules Arbeaux. Thank you for writing this story.

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