"I want our pain to mean something." Nyara's words thrummed through her. "I want to stand tall."
I really enjoyed this third installment in the Terebinth Tree series of short stories. I didn't like it as much as the others, but considering how MUCH I loved them, the author Hannah Heath is still firmly in the lead for being one of my favorite indie authors. My complaints really are minimal: the action in this book isn't as purposeful as in her other stories. This is more of a character tale, which is totally fine. The magic doesn't seem as clearly defined as the others, although it still remains very unique. Don't let those things stop you from diving into this incredible story, though.
The story follows Ailith, a zenith, who is a magician and so powerful she is being recruited to join a group of rebels trying to take down the ruling tyrant in their land. Ailith can hear magic, and use what she hears to form spells. She and her brother have been tasked with a daring rescue for one of the persecuted members of their religion, and while the rescue itself is exciting, it's not the focal point of the story. Ailith struggles to come to terms with her past and who she is, and who people want her to be.
It's hard to review this story without bringing in the other stories in the series, as well. The worldbuilding is consistent with what Heath has been doing so far: creating a rich and varied world with many cultures, worldviews, and belief systems. This can be read as a standalone, but I feel if taken as such, the reader would miss out on the significance of some of the cultural and religious implications for the story. It's such a rich world, that I feel it's definitely worth it to start at the beginning with the first story, The Colors of Fear, followed by Flames of Courage. My personal favorite story by Heath is Vengeance Hunter and can be found in the Phoenix Fiction Writers Anthology, Antiheroes.
Ailith and her brother Dorran somehow have levels of depth that surprised me. It's HARD to create likable, relatable characters with a short story, but Heath does it superbly. The tension is there for Ailith as she tries to reconcile her past and her present. Dorran, while we don't get much of his character arc, provides a sturdy, steadying role in Ailith's life. And Nyara... well, I would have loved to see more of her. She's quirky, wise, and fun.
Heath really shines the most in the themes she explores. Identity, purpose, friendship, family, suffering... there is a poignant moment with Nyara where Ailith must face reality: she can choose to bend and break under the pressure of who she is, or she can embrace herself and her flaws and use it to become who she is meant to be. Suffering is never meaningless, as Nyara tries to point out. And I find myself agreeing. Who we become is forged by pain and how we deal with it. Will we break, too? Or will we become better for it?
I highly recommend this read for all fans of fantasy, not just YA, which is what it is marketed for. Check out the rest of this amazing series. You won't be disappointed.