Published by HarperTeen on November 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Astrid is the surrogate for Princess Renya, which means she bears the physical punishment if Renya steps out of line. Astrid has no choice—she and her family are Outsiders, the lower class of people without magic and without citizenship.
But there is a way out of this life—competing in the deadly Race of Oblivion. To enter the race, an Outsider is administered the drug Oblivion, which wipes their memory clear of their past as they enter a new world with nothing to help them but a slip of paper bearing their name and the first clue. It’s not as simple as solving a puzzle, however—for a majority of the contestants, the race ends in death. But winning would mean not only freedom for Astrid, but citizenship and health care for her entire family. With a dying father to think of, Astrid is desperate to prevail.
From the beginning, the race is filled with twists and turns. One of them is Darius, a fellow racer Astrid meets but isn’t sure she can trust. Though they team up in the race, as Astrid’s memories begin to resurface, she remembers just who he was to her—a scorned foe who may want revenge. Astrid also starts to notice she has powers no Outsider should—which could help her win the race, but also make her a target if anyone finds out. With stakes that couldn’t be higher, Astrid must decide what is more important: risking her life to remember the mysteries of the past, or playing a cutthroat game in order to win her—and her family’s—freedom.
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Our main heroine Astrid proves to be not only capable, but really badass. I mean, by the 3/4 mark she was running around, describing a gash on her leg that was bleeding everywhere while she caught up to a nemesis that she inevitably had to fight with a recently dislocated shoulder. Oh yeah. That kind of badass.
Crown of Oblivion has essentially two groups of people. Enchanteds and Outsiders. Enchanteds are full citizens with all the benefits that brings, who can use magic, and Outsiders are essentially indentured servants who have been inoculated against the magic and have little to no benefits of citizenship. I wasn’t super clear on the inoculation and why it was a thing, but I had to read this book kind of quickly, so maybe I just missed it somewhere.
Anyway, the Race of Oblivion gives an Outsider the chance to become a full citizen. It’s literally a race, where contestants follow puzzles and clues to cross the country and find the finish line. The only catch is that most of the contestants that don’t win end up dying along the way. And if you do survive, but don’t come in first, you have to extend your servitude for a number of years.
So like, no good choices here.
This is where Astrid comes in. She’s an Outsider, but she mysteriously has magic that she’s been hiding her whole life. She doesn’t know where it came from. But it certainly gives her an edge in the competition. But it’s also illegal, and her fellow racers will do anything to get rid of her. And so will, we find out later, the government.
I didn’t have a good handle on the magic system here. It didn’t bother me too much because I’m not so much a details person when it comes to world building, but I was slightly confused as to how it all fit together.
So one thing I wasn’t sure I was on board with but ended up LOVING by the end was the fact that the racers have their memories wiped going into the race. It made the beginning of this race kind of…lackluster to me, but as we went on, it proved such a good choice. This provided so much opportunity for twists and reveals that I raced through the middle part of this book (no pun intended). Each new piece of information Astrid discovered pushed you closer and closer to the finish line, and I was here for all of it.
Darius! Can’t leave this guy out. You didn’t think I’d forget about the romance, do you? This is also reminiscent of Hunger Games for me. A tenuous partnership built out of necessity, turns to something else. But it’s a beautiful journey, you guys. Remember those twists I mentioned just a second ago?
There was a whole sub plot with a rebel group working against the monarchy/government that was extremely important, but I was more interested in the race to the death, so this part wasn’t quite as fun for me. It doesn’t detract from the story, of course, and adds in to those twists I keep mentioning.
The ending did feel a little abrupt. I immediately went to Good Reads to try to figure out if it will have a sequel, but it appears to be a stand alone. Not that things weren’t concluded, but I was surprised there wasn’t one more chapter tying things up.
Anyway. Crown of Oblivion isn’t perfect, but holy moly is it a blast to read.
Julie Eshbaugh is a YA writer and former filmmaker. She made two short films and then spent several years producing an online videoseries for teens which received several honors from the Webby Awards. Her new YA fantasy standalone,CROWN OF OBLIVION, is coming from HarperTeen November 2019. IVORY AND BONE (HarperTeen 2016) and OBSIDIAN AND STARS (HarperTeen 2017), her prehistoric fantasy duology, are out now. You can learn more about Julie’s writing escapades by visiting www.julieeshbaugh.com.