Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’ title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.
Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.
When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret—one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war.
Title: Year of the Reaper | Author: Makiia Lucier | Publisher: Clarion | Pub Date: 9/11/2021 | Pages: 336 | ISBN13: 978-0358272090 | Genre: YA Fantasy/Supernatural Thriller | Language: English | Source: NetGalley | Starred Review
Year of the Reaper Review
Year of the Reaper introduces a compelling protagonist in the first chapter. After being a prisoner for three years and being chained and abused, Cas is a different person than the one who disappeared when he was just 15 years old. His older brother and the people who know him are shocked when he returns home.
It’s soon apparent to everyone that Cas isn’t the same person. No longer a boy, it isn’t just the physical developments that underscore the changes. He’s troubled and his easy-going, sociable nature is long gone. At his core, he’s still a good person with good values, but he has dark moments when he struggles and he doesn’t find it easy to cope with affection or attention. For example, unlike the Cassia people once knew, Cas doesn’t like to be touched now.
Cas is different and home isn’t the same, either. A plague swept through the nation, killing entire families and decimating the population. Cas’s return home is filled with both happiness and grief as he learns about those who didn’t survive.
Despite his struggles, Cas can think on his feet, skills that come in handy when he rescues the new prince from drowning on his naming day. The rescue marks his dramatic return to his hometown, and he struggles to cope with the attention he receives for his heroism and his unexpected return.
This is one of the tougher books for me to review, and I’m going to embrace ‘me’ and ‘I’ phrases throughout the rest of the review. I was drawn right into this story and completely engaged from the start. I read over 30% the first day, which is rare for me because I’m not a quick reader and this isn’t a particularly short book. Lucier created this character I wanted to spend time with and did a great job introducing the world.
My pace slowed a little in the middle of the book. Although a threat had been introduced early on, Cas wasn’t tasked with finding the would-be assassin or protecting the prince, and given his circumstances, there was no reason for him to be assigned that task from the start. Much of the focus is on him adjusting to life back at home and coping with the challenges of hosting the king and queen and their entourage.
Cas is also struggling with his ability to see some of the dead and he’s not quite ready to admit to himself that he fancies the king’s sister, who he rescued before returning home without knowing who she was.
The prince almost drowned and then one of the queen’s entourage is found dead, wearing a lavish wedding dress, with gold coins on her body. Cas also found a gold coin at the place where the would-be assassin who shot the prince’s nurse hid. I wasn’t convinced the king would have moved his queen and infant son back to the capital so soon after these events. Moving made them vulnerable and exposed everyone to greater danger, but it does advance the plot, and eventually the story centers around the reason for the attacks and how to find those responsible.
I suppose some readers may feel the first part of the second act is unfocused because it maintains a solid focus on Cas’s return home, but it held my interest, and I think it’s brave and rewarding to see stories that aren’t solely focused on the next plot point. Lucier indulges us with a lot of reunions and discoveries, and it’s more important than people might realize because this story is every bit as much about Cas’s journey and his healing. Whether the book works for you or not depends solely on your view of him, because as the sole protagonist, every part of the story’s filtered through his eyes.
I’ve read a lot of books I’ve raved about this year, but with Year of the Reaper, I did something I never do. After I finished the book, I started re-reading it. And found myself drawn right back in. Upon my second reading, I thought about how important some of Cas’s homecoming scenes were, because of what they told us about his character, and why that matters as the story progresses. For me, this worked incredibly well.
The story develops in unexpected ways, keeping it from being predictable. While delivering some anticipated outcomes satisfies the reader, Lucier walks a fine line by giving us credible outcomes, including a mix of happy and sad moments. For me, the ending felt earned and realistic, and it was ultimately satisfying. There’s a lot to like here, and readers looking for character-driven stories will want to ensure they grab a copy of Year of the Reaper.
You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.
Eliza writes YA, horror, sci fi, fantasy and crime fiction. She also reviews for Sci-Fi and Scary. Stay up to date by following her on Twitter @ElJBrandt
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