Title: Year of the Reaper
Author: Makiia Lucier
Genres: Historical Fantasy, Mystery
Publisher: Clarion Books
Review Copy: Received an eARC from the publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: The past never forgets…
Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’ title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.
Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.
When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret—one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war.
Review: [This book contains graphic depictions of violence, assassination attempts, murder, descriptions of corpses, serious illness/epidemic, prison labor, xenophobic violence, and references to medical torture.]
I loved Makiia Lucier’s Tower of Winds duology, so I was thrilled when I found out she had another historical fantasy (standalone, this time) coming out this year. I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant to read YEAR OF THE REAPER considering our current pandemic, but fortunately, the plague in REAPER is much closer to the bubonic plague than it is to COVID-19. It’s also largely over, in the sense that the cast doesn’t have to deal with any active/ongoing outbreaks in the present.
It’s also not over, and that’s one of the things I love most about the book. The plague (and the war before it) had huge, sweeping affects in the world of REAPER. On a national level, the king retreated to a mountain stronghold to avoid the worst of the plague, and on the personal level, many characters lost some, if not all, of their family. Cas himself is a survivor of the plague—and can now see ghosts. There are bridges without toll collectors and castles without owners, and the world is filled with the survivors and their grief.
Despite the losses that haunt virtually every corner of REAPER, the world and characters are rich and well developed. I have a tremendous weakness for “coming home” stories, and Cas’s was especially moving. Lucier is very good at writing quiet moments that nonetheless rip your heart out. Lena was also a great character, and I appreciated her cleverness and her determination to live up to her grandfather’s legacy as a royal historian. It was thanks to her that many significant advancements in the plot could be made, and I was incredibly fond of her. Cas and Lena’s friendship—and then romance—was rather sweet. I appreciated how they grew to respect and trust one another even as they started to doubt the people around them.
As for the mystery itself, genre-savvy readers will have a fair chance at guessing the main twist, even if some of the finer details end up being a (gut-wrenching) surprise. Cas and Lena’s investigation into the mysterious assassin and their motivations are incredibly enjoyable to read. Lucier does a great job with the pacing and the many plots that have to be juggled. She deftly interweaves politics with personal feelings and motivations, which makes for an incredibly engaging read.
Recommendation: Get it now, especially if you love historical fantasy. YEAR OF THE REAPER is a fantastic novel about loss and grief and the decisions survivors have to make and then live with. I finished REAPER in one sitting, cried twice, and hope to get the chance to reread it soon.