The Bird and the Sword, by Amy Harmon
There are dozens and dozens of titles in the Fantasy/YA category, so I never pick one up with high expectations. But this book was an especially strong start to what has already become a trilogy. The language matches or exceeds Hunger Games with excellent characters in an interesting world.
The central character is Lark, whose mother is slain at the start of the book for displaying magical (called “gifted” in the book) powers. Lark’s particular powers are based on spoken words. The gifted are hunted in this world and the mother is slain by the king in front of Lark and her father. As she dies the mother curses the king and his son and also enchants Lark so that she can no longer speak as a way to protect her from her own magic.
When Lark grows up the land is under attack by Volgars, part human part vulture creatures. The king is dead and his son Tiras now rules. Lark is captured and taken to the castle as a hostage when her father refuses to supply troops. There she must try to use her powers to cure Tiras of a strange ailment. She falls in love with him and he teaches her to read which increases her ability to use her gifts by helping her a focus on words.
The book isn’t perfect. It’s a rare book or movie that can successfully have a character narrate their own death, as Lark’s mother does at the start of this book. In Sunset Boulevard this serves a purpose. It doesn’t here. Also, Lark’s romance with Tiras either proves that love conquers all or lust will overcome all other considerations. I also found myself scratching my head once the power behind the Volgars is revealed. Some of the word spells Lark creates just seem silly at times. The book is strong all the same. The characters and magic are interesting enough to set some details aside. I’m not sure adults are going to fall in love with the story as they did with the political overtones in Hunger Games but it could be a great story for the target audience.