In Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the avians and the serpiente (human to bird/snake shapeshifters) have been fighting a war for so long that no one knows how it started. Seriously, the main character finds a possible cause in an old book. The leaders of the two peoples go to the tiger shapeshifters to seek their advice. Because tigers are totally the people you go to for advice on how to be peaceful, right? The tigers tell them that since both people’s respective heirs are somewhat unattached (well, they have sort of girl- and boyfriends) they should just get married. What could go wrong?
Zane, crown prince of the Serpiente, and Danica, heir to the Tuuli Thea, sacrifice their hearts for their people and get married against the advice of their well-wishers. They discover, among other things, culture shock, their tumultuous feelings toward each other, and just how far their people will go to protect them from the enemy.
The Quills: 7/10
Days and weeks and years, and all I know is bloodshed. […]
No one knows why we fight; they only know that we will continue until we win a war it is too late to win, until we have avenged too many dead to avenge, until no one can remember peace anymore, even in songs.
Days and weeks and years.
My brother never returned last night.
-Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Hawksong
Hawksong is a short and sweet YA fantasy romance. This was really difficult to rate in terms of Quills because the writing is great and the ideas had so much potential, but there are so many ways this book limits itself. The writing absolutely shines in parts, without being too shiny overall, and that goes a long way toward remedying the other problems.
Written in first person POV, the voice of Danica is a bit stiff and may be hard to get used to for a younger audience. It makes sense for her to be this way though, once you get to know the society she grew up in. The tone is ethereal and haunting when she describes the losses of the war. There are a few long-winded speeches that are very driven and touching, but if they were not made by Danica and Zane, no one would take the time to listen.
Unfortunately, Danica and her mate are probably the only ones who are characterized well. The other characters in this book are sort of like 2D cardboard cutouts; they’re pretty and they can stand up to inspection from afar, but when you get closer you realize they’re not really anything.
The short length of the book limits it. A lot. It’s only 243 pages but presents a diverse world with waaay too many characters and peoples to build in that space. In terms of world building, the world is so unclear I have to keep checking if I’m wearing my glasses. There are the avians who live in a keep, the serpiente who live in a palace, the mistari (tigers) who live in some huts in a desert somewhere, the falcons mysteriously on the sidelines (somehow not part of the avians), and we know humans exist because they’ve been mentioned a couple times. The period of time seems vaguely medieval because of all the horse-riding and arrow-shooting but beyond that, the world’s a mystery. The avian and serpiente cultures are described better, but you just get a vague sense that the serpiente are vibrant and free-spirited, and the avians are cautious and boring. They do each have their own history and stories, which is a plus though.
Because of the length, the plot events are sparse too. Not including the inciting event, there are pretty much two major things that happen. There could have been so many more things done with this setup that I was disappointed it ended just like that.
Looking back on what I’ve written, it seems there’s a lot of negatives here. It’s not what it seems; there are so many good things, but you have to read the book to get a feel for how good the writing and the tone is.
The Roses: 8.5/10
I really like this book. I’m a big fan of slow romances; I don’t really buy the whole love at first sight thing. And I love the fact that this doesn’t have the whole “Omg he’s so hot -swoon-” kind of feeling. The characters do acknowledge that their partners are attractive but don’t get overly hung up on it. If you need to have a fast-moving romance with lots of drama, you may not enjoy this book as much.
Some other things I like: Zane is a total badass, avian society is matriarchal, and the tone is done very well.
This is the first of a five book series, however I don’t think I will be reading the others (well, maybe I’ll have a look at the second; it’s narrated by Zane!). Each book in the series is narrated by someone different, and I’m not sure, with such skimpy characterization, if I want to get to know a total stranger again. Also, this book was lovely and compared to the whole never-ending war problem in this book, I think the next books will pale in comparison.
In summary, Hawksong is a masterpiece that unfortunately didn’t reach its full potential due to the short length of the book.