Last Memoria (Memoria Duology #1) by Rachel Emma Shaw - SPFBO 2020 Finalist Review

Last Memoria (Memoria Duology #1) by Rachel Emma Shaw - SPFBO 2020 Finalist Review

Write on: Mon, 08 Feb 2021 by  in SPFBO 2020 Read 2979

A character-driven story about memory thieves, murderous vines and the search for redemption. 

Last Memoria is the first book in Rachel Emma Shaw's dark fantasy series, The Memoria Duology, and a finalist in this year's Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off. Set in a grim fantasy world of memory thieves, tyrants and murderous magical vines, it tells the tragic intertwining tale of Sarilla, a memory thief seeking redemption for the horrors she has committed by her king's command, and Falon, a young nobleman who will do anything to regain the memories that were stolen from him. 

'We were born under Cursen's ire, not Forta's protection.'

Sarilla is a child of two opposing worlds. Treated as a monster by humans and an inferior half-breed by the memoria, she is an extremely tragic character, simultaneously despised and wanted for the power she wields. She is cynical, mistrustful, filled with self-loathing and suffers from Stockholm syndrome. She wears her curse on her skin and in her hair and obsesses with hiding her hands with gloves. I had conflicting feelings towards her throughout the course of the book. For the most part, I felt sympathy and pity for her. She has been shaped by a hateful world, believing herself an unlovable monster. It is heart-breaking to see anyone feel that way and suffer such discrimination. At the same time, her endless cynicism and self-loathing gets frustrating as readers are reminded of how tragic her life is time and time again as the story progresses. Furthermore, she has a streak of cruelty too, and her later actions left me still feeling conflicted over her character by the book's end. 

Falon is the illegitimated son of a cruel father who sets him an impossible task that ultimately leads to him losing half a year of his memories. He desperately seeks to restore his mind and is aided by his best friend Haveric and lover Ced. On a quick note, I just want to acknowledge Shaw's exploration of bisexual relationships here. It is not something you often see in books. In fact, one of the most hopeful aspects of the cruel world Shaw has created is how accepting people are of each other's sexual orientation. Falon and Ced's relationship is wonderfully portrayed during both its highs and lows. However, it is Falon's relationship with Sarilla that is the main focus of the story. To say it is complex is an understatement. Falon is a good man at heart even if he does express the same prejudice towards her as everyone else (although he is by far the most justified in doing so), making him yet another product of this hateful world and adding more weight to this tragic story. He both loves and hates her and this conflict of feelings tears at his already fractured mind. I really enjoyed his chapters. They feel more hopeful and serve as an excellent contrast to Sarilla's. 

'He was her moral compass. Her persecutor and defender all rolled into one. He condemned her in one breath and ordered her to be what he hated in the next.'

As for the villain of the story, King Renford isn't that great. He comes across as one dimensional, desperate to possess Sarilla for his own gratification and ambitions. He also does things that truly boggle the mind, like marching his army into the grips of the blackvine to reach one city, then doing it a second time to reach another. Considering how dangerous the blackvine is, and has been, and how cities like the vertical Venice that is Averndon have adapted to its threat, surely there is another path or plan to avoid it. Surely, thousands of soldiers wouldn't just walk to their own death for someone as incompetent as their king. The image Sarilla paints of Renford in the aforementioned quote as a compelling villain does not feel earned. 

There is an element of hostility in every single relationship in the book, some more so than others. Everyone bickers and hide things from each other. Pretty much every single character, even those unnamed, scowl at Sarilla at least once (can someone please give this poor lady a break?). This became exhausting early on and at times made the rest of the book a bit of a slog to trudge through. The only character I would say is genuinely kind is Haveric, a good-natured fellow that I would argue shows more empathy than the rest of the characters combined. 

'A whispered promise of treason on an early morning spring. A hand holding hers as false promises filled her ears. A surge of sunlight through a leaf.'

Rachel Emma Shaw is a fabulous writer of prose, her language descriptive, beautiful and very poetic at times. I really enjoyed the dual narrative style with the first half of the book written in third person limited from Sarilla's viewpoint, followed by a first-person latter half through the eyes of Falon. Across both styles, Shaw writes some truly riveting memory sequences that are woven together with wonderful fluidity. They were an absolute pleasure to read. This is when Last Memoria was at its finest. Shaw also effectively conveys such raw emotion in her characters. Furthermore, the magic system is unique and fascinating, which is the catalyst for some truly gripping moments that will have readers holding their breath. 

Overall, Last Memoria is a very good book that has a lot going for it. It is very much character-driven, which many readers will enjoy, brimming with wonderful prose, and has a fascinating magic system at the heart of its story. At the same time, the endless cynicism of its characters and hostility that underpins their relationships, along with the shallowness of its main villain, leaves a lot to be desired. 

Booknest's official score for Last Memoria is 7/10


Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.