"Great golden sky turtles!"
Given is the compelling and thought-provoking YA fantasy debut from author Nandi Taylor, and is an account of destiny, fate, and faith. It's a tale of respecting culture, holding true to your beliefs, and the ugly cost of ignorance and insensitivity. Touching upon several topics that are currently prominent in our own world, such as gender and racial inequality, I found it rather easy to connect to this book. While its core consists of a romance cultivated by the 'enemies to lovers' trope, it's really a story of love and respect – for your friends, family, and most importantly, yourself.
The strongest aspects of this book all coincide with absolutely wonderful worldbuilding. Of my favorites, the magic system, which differs from region to region based on how "advanced" a society is, is at the top of that list. Yenni is an expert at runelore, but judgemental individuals in this faraway land aren’t hesitant to let her know that the magic she wields is inferior. This culture clash among a diverse cast of characters not only perfectly builds tension, but also makes for pretty interesting banter. Gorgeously portrayed landscapes, a unique plot, and some exceptional moments of intense action made this an enjoyable read.
I believe most of my issues with this book stem from the misleading blurb attached to it. I honestly went into this thinking I'd be swept along on a perilous journey in search for the all-elusive cure, but was instead presented with a magic school. It served its purpose, and did so relatively well, but it was completely unexpected. Also, the supporting characters felt a bit flat to me, and the evolution of both Yenni and Weysh at times felt forced. Taking their young ages into consideration, questionable decisions led to an unnecessary drawing out of conflict resolution. For this being a character-centric narrative, I was hoping these elements would be more powerful.
The description has no mention of a sequel, but the ending doesn't bring Yenni's journey to a conclusion, so I'm hoping this isn’t the last time we visit this world Taylor has created. While Given has its issues, I think it's an engaging debut with tons of potential for growth in the future. Although labeled YA, our young leads are forced to deal with very adult situations, so I would say this could be enjoyed by all. If you're looking for a story of love and magic and dragons, then you may want to give this one a try.
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