I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I don’t know what exactly I was expecting from Asperfell, but those expectations were far surpassed. This debut novel is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s incredibly well written. The grammar and formatting are positively immaculate, which speaks highly of Thomas’s professionalism as an author; it’s obvious that she invested a lot of time in editing and perfecting Asperfell before introducing it to the world. And her way with words is impeccable. Actually, I would even say that the setting and writing reminded me the tiniest bit of Guy Gavriel Kay, who is a phenomenally talented craftsman of an author. It also had a Regency tone and flair to it. If Guy Gavriel Kay and Jane Austen teamed up to write a young adult fantasy novel, it would look something like Asperfell.
“Have courage. And no matter how dark the world seems and how much you’d like to darken with it, find whatever light you can wherever you can, and help it grow.”
Though I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis, I feared that Asperfell would feel very young adult, which is a very hit-or-miss genre for me. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. While it did veer more in that direction as the book neared its zenith, it didn’t feel cliche in the slightest. Instead, Asperfell took the elements of YA that I love, like having a plucky heroine who finds herself in over her head but is determined to rise to the occasion anyway, and translated said elements into a story I could truly connect with while delivering a story that felt fresh instead of regurgitating tired and over-used plot points. Thomas employed so many different tropes that I love without any of them seeming weak. And she did so seamlessly. A coming-of-age narrative, political intrigue, mystery, romance, and even a bit of magical schooling all exist harmoniously in this novel. There were also Regency levels of snark and sass, which were incredibly entertaining. There were also some incredibly subtle pop culture references to fandoms I love, like Harry Potter and Doctor Who. So subtle in fact that I’m not quite sure that I didn’t make them up and decide to see things that aren’t actually there.
“Knowledge is the most powerful weapon any of us can possess, and even the smallest of us can wield it.”
Briony is such a remarkable character. She is strong, curious, intelligent, and pure of heart without seeming stuffy or self-righteous. I very much enjoyed being given the opportunity to watch her grow up, and to being allowed to see through her eyes how her kingdom changed radically over the course of her young life. However, as much as I appreciated this introduction, to me the story didn’t start shining until we reached Asperfell itself. Asperfell is such an intriguingly original locale, and I was captivated by each new tidbit of knowledge revealed in its hallways and garden plots.
“There is power in a voice such as you cannot imagine.”
While I very much enjoyed this book, it fell a bit short for me at the end. The villain’s identity was fairly predictable, in my opinion, and the climactic scenes went a little Deus ex Machina, resulting in a finale sequence that felt oddly abrupt. And while the ending was technically an ending, it left me wanting much more resolution. However, even though I was a bit unsatisfied by the ending, I absolutely loved the world building and character development in Asperfell. I dearly hope there will be future installments returning to this world.