'Star Eater' by Kerstin Hall, takes place in Aytrium, a dystopian fantasy land where an order of women called the Sisterhood wield all the power. Males and those from non-magical bloodlines are second class citizens, but being a sister isn't necessarily optimal either.
Elfreda Raughn is just an acolyte. Her best friends are both non-magical, Millie and Finn.. they're also the only family she's got. She wants out of the Sisterhood and all the ritualistic activities they center their lives around.
When a shadowy faction offers her an opportunity to avoid some of the most trying day-to-day duties, she agrees to spy for them. Her tasks give her access to a world she's never seen before. The elegant parties, twisted games, and dangerous interactions that only the leaders amongst her order engage in.. but surviving them may be another story.
Conceptually it's an intriguing story with incredibly dark elements. Not only do the Sisters engage in blood magic, it's quite frankly a brutal existence. Even those at the top have to sacrifice heavily, having more power only enables them to choose between those sacrifices a bit more aggressively and in Aytrium, none of the choices are good.
Hall manages to take some truly horrific acts and make them so palatable that they seem almost acceptable within the structure of the story. Which, isn't to say there isn't an occurrence here and there that's methodically too much even under the expectations she sets.
I enjoyed the multi-tiered conflict. The characters have plenty of internal struggles, but there are also waves and waves of conflicts overlapping and crashing into each other amongst the citizens of Aytrium. Though I did feel the ending was a little anti-climactic for me, the path from about the midway point of the book up to that conclusion hits pretty hard and fast. In fact, there's a moment it the city that is really rough emotionally.
While overall the story was pretty enjoyable, the beginning was a big of a slog. Somehow the author both over-describes and under-describes.. and I've genuinely never seen that before. Meaning, she'll give an eye-view of nearly everything the character comes across, but she doesn't actually describe any of it in enough detail so as to be easily visualized or memorable. The overuse of group names within the order is also a bit out of hand.
Fortunately, after the first third or so of the novel, that clears up as the plot itself becomes more dense. The book is definitely still worth a read, as it improves considerably from that point on and by the halfway mark or so, I didn't want to put it down anymore. If you're sensitive to graphic scenes, blood, gore, or death.. this book might not be for you.