Megan White’s debut The Anatomy of Songs drew me in with a stunning cover and great copy, only to make me fall in love with the writing on the very first pages. Published by New Dawn Press, a small Australian publisher, I was doubly keen to see this cross our inbox – and I’m looking forward to seeing more of both Megan White’s and New Dawn’s work more generally in the future. Lush descriptions, strong characters, plenty of betrayal and one of the most feminine instances of a book that truly feels like a grimdark fantasy make this a very strong offering.
Kasira Severen leads a double life. By day, she is a healer, by night an assassin, controlled by her father. And he’s set her onto her biggest target yet – Crown Prince Veridian Erris. But Veridian has his own slew of issues to worry about. Trying to wrangle Livadha into shape and figuring out a way to broker peace with the exiled Queen make surviving the attempts on his life long enough to secure political stability just one of many chores.
The book opens on a young Kasira being manipulated by her father to poison a man with Belladonna. He dies, very publicly, in agony. It is heartbreaking to watch as not only she has her innocence shattered, but also her trust in the people who are supposed to be pillars in her life, who she is supposed to be able to rely on. This scene sets the tone for the entire novel, and its haunting effect is what made me fall for The Anatomy of Songs.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about The Anatomy of Songs are the chapter epigraphs that often discuss either human anatomy or poisons, often from work that Kasira has written or commented on. They helped set the tone for the book and build atmosphere – and were little tidbits of trivia that I loved learning about. In more general terms, The Anatomy of Songs was an engaging read with well-crafted characters and strong world-building. Livadha came to life throughout the story, as did Kasira and Veridian.
Politics is a dominant theme, which makes it seem slightly slower paced at times, but there is always plenty going on to interest the reader. While there are some romantic elements to the story, they are less prevalent than I had expected, which I found refreshing as it left more space for the characters to develop on their own. The prose is evocative and descriptive, drawing the reader in, with close first-person narration switching between Kasira and Veridian in alternate chapters.
A very intriguing debut for the grimdark audience, situated at the crossover mark between YA and adult fantasy. I’m looking forward to seeing what Megan White writes next!