'Ruinsong' by Julia Ember is the story of a girl with the magic of spellsong. A birth trait that can be a gift or a curse under the ruthless Queen Elene of Cavalia, it earns our main character.. Cadence.. the spot of Principal singer in her Court.
As an orphan, Cadence has no real attachments outside the queen's court. She has a fondness for her old tutor, Madam.. warm, distant memories of a girl named Remi.. and love for her little dog, Nip.. the only being she feels is family. That love is a weakness to be exploited though and she's a powerful spellsinger, which makes for a uniquely dangerous tug-of-war with her emotions.
Having been forced to torture Cavalia's disgraced nobles over the queen's personal grudge against their kind, she does what she can to atone along the way. Either insisting on being allowed to include healing spells or giving her time and her voice to the point of her own suffering to those most heavily in need.
When she and Remi are united, all is not well between them. Remi's view of Cadence has been colored by the queen's hand and the two couldn't be on more opposing sides of an issue. Their chance meeting is a crossroads of sorts.. leading to decisions that can affect everyone in their country for a long time to come.
This book is a very dark lgbtq+ fantasy full of richly textured characters and world-building. Though the magic induced torture isn't frequent, it's certainly grisly.. but it's also only done with purpose within the plot. It's not gratuitous, but it impacted the story and myself as the reader, quite strongly. If graphic scenes regarding people or pets bother you, be wary.. but it's a wonderfully told tale of forbidden romance and the horrors of a totalitarian queen obsessed with vengeance.
I became deeply invested in this story rather quickly. Cadence is a sweet girl, despite the things she's forced to do. Sweet enough, that even understanding how the suffering affects the citizens.. it's still difficult to see her treated unkindly for it.
The magic can be beautiful or brutal, but is fascinating in it's structure.. and in the perseverance of those who wield it, or perhaps the stubbornness of the goddess who bestows it.
Of the broad cast of supporting characters, I found Remi's suitor.. Nolan to be quite a surprise. He could have been a far more typical male role, but he thought of others first.. sometimes at great risk to himself. Likewise, the queen's right-hand man is a wonderfully vicious villain. In fact, I both dreaded and eagerly waited each of his appearances throughout the book.
It seems to be a nice standalone story, as the conflict all wraps up nicely by the end.. so no concerns here about cliffhangers or anything of the like. I'm definitely eager to see what else Ember might have up her proverbial sleeve. I'm extremely impressed with her style and structure, but especially her willingness to push the envelope with the darkness of her content. I loved this book.