Review: Allaha of the Mountain by Aurora Thornton (Wildflowers #1)


Goodreads summary:

Allaha is a knight of the Order of Aisha, Fallen of the Mountain. She – like her fellows – is stoic and reserved, trained to fight against demons and their ilk. When she triggers a vision that kills a renown oracle, she is set on a quest to complete the prophecy.

She becomes the protector of those mentioned in the prophecy.

Tamara is a young woman of the Menori – a migrant people that travel in caravans. She is also a hamalakh, able to sense the emotions of others as well as sense falsehoods. She is sometimes wise beyond her years, but at other times her youth can cause her to draw incorrect conclusions.

Hibu, a sorcerer, is from the country of Jeongwon – a land where the nobility are worshipped as gods. He was the personal sorcerer of Prince Ji – a testament to the strength of his powers. He is ever curious and seeking new knowledge, questioning all the people they meet on their journey. He is joined by his demon familiar, Goric.

Karejakal was orphaned by the death of his entire clan – but his mastak powers gave him the ability to keep their spirits close. Still a child, Karej is a Tibu – a race of cat people that walk upright. Learning of his people from the spirits of his clan, the child has adopted Allaha as his mother.

Together, they travel the land of Magdra, seeking answers to a broken prophecy wherein they only know two things – that a darkness is coming, and that they are meant to stop it. All they need to discover now is how to do it.

Review:

In many ways, Allaha of the Mountain feels like the end of a series. Or perhaps a penultimate book. So much has gone on before we meet this characters that it’s a difficult novel to get into – not least because, even on kindle, I was aware of how long it was. All of our main characters have suffered tragedies, and travelled a significant way both together and apart before we even meet them. So it’s difficult to shake the idea that we’ve joined them mid-adventure. Given the interesting two-time structure of this novel, however, I wonder if the exact circumstances of their meeting will be narrated in flashbacks in later novels.

My biggest issue with Allaha of the Mountain is the pacing. The first half has little to no significance to the plot, besides building the relationships between the characters – in fact, it feels like we’ve missed the most significant event entirely, between Hibu and Tamara, which influences Hibu’s magical ability and feeds precisely into the climax of the novel. Allaha and her fate-destined charges travel across one of the best-built fictional worlds I’ve ever read, searching for a seer who can complete a doom-laden prophecy that killed its first teller.

Then we reach Allaha’s home, and my favourite section of the novel. Here, the hints that there’s something more going on build beautifully on the character work already done. The characters begin to really grow and guide one another at this point, and we spend enough time in one place to be able to really get to know it, and feel closer to this world.

The final section… I simultaneously loved and disliked it. Disliked, because for a second there we return to travelling without ever being told where we’re all going or why. (It turns out that there’s a seer. Which I should have guessed, I suppose.) Loved it, because all the passionate, committed character work pays off in the most sudden and heartbreaking way.

There’s a big cast in Allaha of the Mountain, in terms of both characters and species. Some people have four limbs, some have six, eight, or more (I forget how many extra arms the spider woman had). Some people have fur, or tails. There are people of all colours, from all across the world, with diverse life and relationship expectations. The polyamorous Jaspernians, Scorun and Desrae, were particular favourites, and I do hope that they make another appearance later on in the series.

I just want to talk a little bit about Allaha. Throughout the novel, Allaha makes it clear that she has no interest in sexual or romantic engagement. And this could be attributed to her vows of Knighthood, except that I don’t believe that she’s actively choosing to refuse such engagements. And I know that she is (Word of God) aromantic and asexual. Now, for most of the novel Goric, Hibu’s demon familiar, propositions Allaha with varying degrees of lewdness. By the end (mild spoilers) his behaviour has become much more respectful, but it takes a long time to get to that point. It did make me, as an ace-and-almost-aro person, feel uncomfortable with the amount that he was essentially trying to annoy/persuade her into sleeping with him. I dunno. I can really see myself loving their relationship in the second book, given where it ends. But I did not love how it began.

As you might perhaps be able to tell, I do feel conflicted about Allaha of the Mountain. The pacing was almost painfully slow in places, and I wasn’t entirely a fan of how Allaha’s as yet unspoken aroaceness was used in terms of her being unwillingly propositioned more than once – and once as a form of torture.

But. I completely loved the depth and commitment to the world-building – it’s one of the fullest and most interesting fantasy worlds I’ve ever read. I enjoyed watching Allaha, Tamara, Hibu, Goric and Karejakal grow as characters – not a single one of them goes without strong development. I loved (most of) Allaha’s family, the werewolf family, the Jaspernians, and I super loved Meyaya. I would read a whole novel of people having a good time at Meyaya. Only a little bit joking. Though I did struggle to keep reading at times, I came out of this novel having enjoyed it, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse, stunningly imagined fantasy world.

Representation:

People of various skin colours. The Menori are clearly inspired by/representing Romani people, but I can’t myself speak to how well or not this was done. Allaha is aroace. A few of the main group are queer, but mostly the rep isn’t explicit on the page in this book – apparently there will be more on-the-page rep in the sequel. Own voices with respect to Allaha.

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