Fantasy books are tricky things, especially when they’re set in a completely new world. Having big fantastical elements like monsters and magic in a setting people know is hard enough, but creating a whole world for people to have to learn and believe in can be really difficult. Whenever a writer does it well there are usually two possible outcomes: a world that feels old and lived in but becomes a bit of the background, or a world so unique that you find yourself wanting to learn about it as much as you do the characters. The kingdom of Visidia in All The Stars And Teeth is definitely in the latter category, and it kept me fascinated throughout.
The story follows Amora, daughter of the current king, whose time has come to name his successor. Amora must prove her ability to wield the soul magic of her royal lineage in order to be worthy of becoming the future queen. However, when her powers go out of control she’s not only out of the running to become queen, but is imprisoned. When a daring swashbuckler offers to free her, she must set out on a quest to save her kingdom and prove that she can be queen.
The more I learnt about this bizarre world that Adalyn Grace had created the more it drew me in. I kept thinking I’d gotten a handle on how this place worked, and what to expect, and then she’d throw something new at me. Whether it was teleporting taverns, mermaids, giant sea monsters, or magic that could split a person’s soul, each new thing felt so completely different, yet never broke the world she’d made. It would have been easy to go too over the top, to throw something too fantastical into the mix, but that never happened. There was a sense of escalation, but it never jumped the shark, so to speak.
With a world so layered and interesting it would have also been all too easy to create characters that failed to live up to this environment, but the lead characters of All The Stars And Teeth were great. The crew that formed around Amora all brought something new to the table in terms of both powers and personalities. Towards the start of the adventure I really didn’t like Ferrick, the young man that Amora is set to marry. He seemed clingy, a bit stuffy, and frankly annoying; but come the end of the book he’d stepped up in some big ways, and had had some of the biggest moments of bravery in the narrative. He’d proven himself not just to the other heroes, but to me too, and because of that I really hope that he comes back in the second book of the series.
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Bastian, in contrast, starts off as the cool guy, the dashing pirate who knows all the dodgy people and has connections with people that will help Amora on her quest, but as the story progresses we learn more about him and find out that really a lot of this is a bit of a front, and that he’s probably one of the most damaged characters in the book. What comes across as bravado at the start ended up being seen as a front by the end; he hides behind this persona to stop further pain, and it’s only through his adventures with the others that he can begin to open up and become vulnerable again.
Vataea is definitely one of the more interesting characters, thanks to her not even being human. Though we get to spend some time with her and get to know her and her powers a bit she’s still the most unknown element in the crew by the end. Out of the heroes she’s the one who I’m the most unsure about returning in the next book, but really hope she does so that I can try to get to know her better.
Amora is, obviously, the most important character, and as the main point of view the reader spends all their time with her. She’s set up to be this powerful character, a young woman who’s been raised to become the next ruler, and a master of her brand of magic. She begins the book thinking that she knows everything and is the best version of herself that she can be. Over the course of the story we see her realise that she’s wrong on a number of occasions, and she has to do a lot of growing up. Thankfully, she never comes across as childish or petulant. She’s always trying to do better and be better, and it makes her a very likeable protagonist.
All The Stars And Teeth is an interesting novel, that manages to weave a story that’s more complex than it first appears, and keeps you interested throughout. The plot unfolds organically, and the characters grow and develop, meaning that events never feel dull or stale. The story ends in a way that’s satisfying, yet manages to leave so many elements open to be explored in further books. Whether you’re reading this as a standalone, or you’re getting invested in the series, it’s sure to leave you satisfied.
All The Stars And Teeth is out now from Titan Books.