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Book Review: Birthright of Scars Duology by Laurisa Brandt


Release date BOS:  Rising 17 January 2023/ BOS:  Choosing  17 April 2023

Rating: 5/5



Synopses:


Birthright of Scars:  Rising


Falling in love with his bounty hunter was never part of the plan.


After the Kobalt empire spent decades suppressing Pyron culture, Emperor Cinnabar designed the walled Pyron sector with only one purpose: extermination.


Disrel of Tourmal has little left except his sister, but he won’t accept death without a fight. When the state mandates that all Pyrons relocate to the walled sector, Disrel does not hesitate to don a mask and replace the capitol flag with one that proclaims Pyron is free. What he didn’t count on was a simple act of defiance becoming the symbol of an empire-wide revolution. By the time dawn breaks, a sable commander renowned for catching renegades is on his trail, and Disrel is driven into the center of the resistance against the state.


Decorated Sable Commander Ambrosia is ready for the challenge of pulling Pyron resistors off Tourmal’s streets. But the layers of unrest in the capitol go deeper than a masked renegade inciting insurrection, locking her in a deadly dance between conviction and duty, comrades and terrorists—one that requires a flawless loyalty to the state to survive. And the unassumingly charming Disrel keeps getting in her way.


Disrel and Ambrosia are thrust into each other’s paths—as renegade and sable, as citizens of the empire struggling to survive the upheaval. But as their feelings for each other grow, they’ll have to choose: one love destined to destroy them both, or the fate of an empire?


BOS:  Choosing


The cost of loving her was always his destiny.


Disrel has stolen the keys to the imperial regime’s murder machine, but the Pyron sector continues swallowing innocent human life by the thousands. The outside world is just as eager to devour them, with the military executing Pyrons on sight, arresting any who shelter them, and pitting prisoners against each other in deadly arena games in exchange for pardon.


As Disrel wrestles impossible odds to keep himself and his sister free of the walls, his identity as the Tourmaline Renegade becomes increasingly difficult to hide from his enemies and the people he loves most.


Sable Commander Ambrosia can no longer deny that the masked renegade she hunts is a hero, and she can’t convince Disrel—or herself—she loves him while leaving thousands of his people to die of starvation behind the Pyron sector walls. As her emperor demands more from her, she is faced with the choice of following orders or damning herself to a traitor’s cross.


But as her love for Disrel grows, so does the Tourmaline Renegade’s ability to see all her secrets, making him the most dangerous opponent she has ever faced.


As the Pyron people’s situation turns dire, Disrel and Ambrosia must decide if their lives are worth risking for a future neither of them can see, or if the price of freedom requires betrayal, despair, and their blood on each other’s hands.

 

Review


It has been very hard to articulate a review for this book.  Every time I sit down to write something about it, I’ve been hindered by reviewer’s block.  Part of this is because I have not read the first book in the series in a while and had to go back and refresh my memory.  Most of this block, however, stems from the overabundance of feelings I have for these books.


Let me begin with this:  the Birthright of Scars duology exemplifies perfectly why I love indie books so much.  Scratch that.  It exemplifies why I love books, no matter how they are published, so much, though Indie/self-pub authors have really cultivated a practice of making publishing a professional endeavor, and there are some shining lights of writing talent that just stand out from the crowd (more than I find among traditionally published books).  Brandt’s narrative and characters are nothing short of extraordinary, evoking an intensity of emotion in me I rarely feel when reading; when I find a novel, much less two, that makes me experience sorrow and comedy and joy as Brandt’s does, I immediately love it.


The universe of Birthright of Scars exists in a dystopian version of our world in some part of the future that I can’t place.  I say it’s in our world because a character references Ender’s Game in it, and that’s definitely part of our world.  BTW, I need to read that.  


The characters live in a region with many nations or city-states, the foremost of which, for the sake of the narrative, are Kobalt and what was once Pyron.  The main characters, a Romeo and Juliet of sorts, exist in worlds on opposite ends of a political spectrum—one Pyron, one Kobalt (by way of another city-state known as Selen).  The most striking aspect of these characters lies in their life experiences.  They share similar tragic backgrounds, yet they seem to remain relatively objective in their evaluations of those around them.  Ambrosia desires to do her job.  Disrel wants to protect his family.  Circumstances force them together, and they—somehow—begin to see the world through the eyes of the other.  In doing so, they slowly start falling in love.  I did, too.


I have not read a more slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers, hidden identity (which, I may add very much goes toe-to-toe with my love for Superman), redemption romance in an eon. Make no mistake, this is not a typical enemies-to-lovers romance.  Disrel and Ambrosia, though undoubtedly enemies as far as the causes for which they live are concerned, develop a deep, mutual respect and friendship for one another before they fall in love.  And boy, do they fall.  Hard.  While they fight with each other, they battle their slowly growing feelings and the regime that keeps them both constrained in every way possible.  


Birthright of Scars is not a duology for the faint of heart.  Readers can expect very tumultuous, hard subjects.  Though Disrel is a light-hearted, comical character, he deals with quite an insurmountable amount of grief and shoulders a heavy burden for his people to be free.  His people, the Pyrons, are persecuted terribly and have been so for long before the narrative begins.  When we first meet Disrel, the Pyrons are forced to self-identify with a special color of clothing, and their movements have been restricted with special places they can go and curfews by which they must abide.  They are already forced out of work in most areas, and many of them have been herded into an internment camp.  Disrel’s choice to take up the mantle of the Tourmaline Renegade ignites the fire that sets the story in motion and forces him into contact with Ambrosia, who must capture him at all costs.  The two meet almost immediately when she arrives, however, and she doesn’t realize how taken with the Tourmaline Renegade she really is.


Brandt’s use of dramatic irony really pushes the plot for me.  I could not put the book down, though it took me a while to get through it because I kept stopping and marking passages with stickies as I read.  There are no wasted words.  There are no drags in plot.  It feels as though the author combed through these books meticulously with a fine-toothed red pen and made sure every single piece of the story fit snuggly with every other piece around it.  The pacing, even with such a high-stakes novel where slow beats are necessary for mental breaks, was so perfect.  I could not believe how well these books were written.  


Also of note, Brandt’s characters, and there are a myriad, enrich the story.  Every single character shows development, contributes in some significant way to the plot, and should not be ignored.  If you’re used to reading fantasy or sci-fi where there are “red shirts” or filler characters, you’ll have to make an adjustment here.  No character is filler.  I found myself flipping back a couple of times because I took for granted how well incorporated the characters were in this duology.  


I can’t recommend these stories enough.  They’re deep, meaningful, and saturated with displays of love and kindness, pain and suffering, and healing and hope that I needed so much when I read them but didn’t know how much I did.  I look forward eagerly to any books on Brandt’s front list with an anticipation I can only keep in check by trying not to think about.  Both of these books are out now, and I highly, highly encourage anyone who can to pick them up and read them.  At some point, I have to stop typing words or I’ll wind up writing a review as long as the books I’m reviewing.


**These weren’t ARC’s and I own two sets of copies.  One copy, because the books are so thick and reading them without cracking the spine was physically impossible for me, I keep for reading.  The other, a signed set, I keep for display because I LOVE THESE BOOKS and WILL be reading them again.


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