*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
What We Devour is a YA dark fantasy standalone that follows Lorena, a young girl who holds a secret close to her heart. When she makes a deal with the Crown Prince to help him in researching a special Door that just barely holds back murderous gods known as Viles in exchange for human sacrifices, she will be stretched to her limits. Not only does she have to help with the Crown Prince Alistair’s research, but she is also tasked with finding information to prove Will’s (her partner Julian’s father) innocence when he is arrested for treason. However, the further Lorena goes with either task, the more she learns that neither is what they appear to be.
I’ve been following Linsey Miller ever since her first book, Mask of Shadows, came out, and I’ve been floored with her work every time. Requesting an ARC for her most recent book seemed the logical next step, and I was ecstatic when I saw it come in the mail. My whole time spent reading it was a thrill, and I was simultaneously heartbroken and blown away when I finished reading it. It’s been days, and I’m still in a bit of a bookish hangover.
I’d like to say that I try not to have any preconceived notions going in, but I’d be lying. What We Devour was one of my most anticipated reads for this year, and it absolutely destroyed the (admittedly, quite high) expectations I held for it. The commentary surrounding asexuality and capitalism was superb, and it truly was one of the book’s strengths. The characters? *chef’s kiss* I loved seeing everyone’s interactions with one another, especially Lorena and Alistair. Everything just clicked into place for me, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.
This is also coming from someone who doesn’t read a ton (if any?) dark fantasy! I didn’t think I was going to like that aspect so much just because the genre never seemed to be something that I would be interested in. I’m very glad that Linsey proved me wrong. ☺️
Just. This whole reading experience was me screaming about…basically everything? The writing really set the tone; the plot (while it seemed to be placed on the back burner at times) was exciting; the characters??? are everything I could ever ask for and more???; the world-building needed a bit of thought and was absolutely captivating; and the THEMES, oh my goodness. The themes (and the characters, tbh) is where this book really shines.
To put it simply, the writing was all around very good. It did a wonderful time setting (and keeping) the tone of the book — it was dark and tense and it had me flying through the pages as fast as possible. To me, the gore wasn’t all that bad (YMMV, however — it is a dark fantasy novel based partially around sacrifice, after all), but the writing really shines with character’s emotions, especially Lorena’s since we’re in her headspace for the whole novel.
I thought the 1st person POV did a great job of centering in on how Lorena starts off in the beginning of the book as a girl who already knows of the horrors the world and those in power can bring and then shifting to the morally grey protagonist we see at the end. Not only that, but the reader gets to see firsthand her dilemmas regarding her feelings toward both Alistair and Julian, as well as Will. Seeing her struggle with how she feels about the three of them was very intriguing to read through, and there are no easy answers.
Throughout the book, there’s a constant stream of darkness. It’s bleak, all the cards are stacked against Lorena and the others, nothing seems like it will work out. But through it all, there always seems to be this undercurrent of hope, no matter how weak. The characters are constantly up against roadblocks, but there’s always this feeling that at the end of it all, our dear protagonist and her friends will come out on top, even if it isn’t exactly the way we want them to. And this bit did a wonderful job at making me root for not only Lorena, but the side characters such as Basil and Mac (and yes, even Carlow). There is always this feeling of, “The world can be — and needs to be — different. And we’ll help get it there.” and it made the story not as dark as it could have been, which I personally enjoyed.
In terms of the more technical aspects, I found it very easy to read. While the world-building was a bit much at first — requiring me to sit with a few sections and think on them sometimes — it didn’t make for anything particularly rigorous, and in fact, I had a bit of fun with it. There are some time-jumps that, to me, seem to come out of nowhere and a few awkwardly-ending chapters, but that didn’t take away from my personal enjoyment whatsoever. I also wish we had more time with the world-building — it seemed a bit crunched in at times — but I’ll get to that later on in the review.
Overall, I thought that the writing made for a dark and tense reading experience, which I very much enjoyed. It drove the plot along, and it made me anxious to see what would happen next.
Like I said earlier, What We Devour follows Lorena when she, as a deal to prove her partner’s father’s innocence, agrees to help the Crown Prince Alistair with his research that involves the Door, the entry to the world beyond that holds powerful gods known as the Vile (those who destroy) and the Noble (those who create). However, she has her own secret: she is a dualwrought. Being dualwrought means having both a vilewright (the ability to destroy in exchange for sacrifices) and a noblewright (the ability to create in exchange for sacrifices). Dualwroughts are extremely rare — the only other known dualwrought is the queen of Cynlira, Alistair’s mother.
Not only does Lorena have to worry about the Door, as it needs an increasing amount of human sacrifices to stay closed recently, but she also has to find a way to prove Will’s innocence when he is charged with treason. Both of these, however, become more and more challenging because nothing is as it seems. Lorena will have to not only work with her newfound allies to find a solution, but also with Alistair, the symbol of everything Lorena hates in Cynlira.
I fucking loved this story, y’all. Like I said earlier, it seemed to take the back burner at times in order for us to connect with the characters, but it was still magnificent in the way that it circles back around to encompass said characters. Whether it’s the moral questions surrounding the Door or the questions surrounding Will, Lorena, and what family means, I thought the plot gives the reader a good foundation to explore the themes that pop up throughout the book. If you’re into stories about anti-capitalists attempting to take down the systems that oppress them, I think you’d really vibe with What We Devour.
I will say that it seems to take a bit for the ball to start rolling in the beginning, but when it does…be ready. When it picks up, it picks up quickly, but it didn’t feel rushed to me. The ending and resolution could seem a bit too open-ended for some, but I thought it was a perfect ending for the story: very rarely do things end with a neat bow on top, and it can be messy and complex — all you can do sometimes is weather it.
I have so many favorite scenes, but I’m adamant in keeping this review spoiler free. In the meantime, just know that I was on the edge of my seat for the last third or so of the book — there were so many memorable scenes and character development (regression?) that had me doing a lil excited dance in my chair (or bed, depending on where I was reading, lol).
I will say, though, that while I enjoyed the plot immensely, the characters are what really sold me on What We Devour. Let me tell you…Linsey Miller knows how to create some real interesting characters.
…Where do I even start with the characters, y’all? Lorena was simply amazing. Starting right out of the gate, she is a brave and outspoken girl who isn’t afraid to point out other characters’ bullshit. She is manipulative, and lying is her safeguard. Her relationships with the other characters were so interesting to get into (especially Alistair! omg!), but what really intrigued me was her relationship with her wrights. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but compared to other noblewrought and vilewrought, she treats her wrights in a much different way. I loved seeing the dichotomy between how Lorena communicates with her wrights and how Alistair does. It was very interesting to see, and I think it gives just a bit more depth to who they both are as people.
I really liked seeing Lorena’s development (regression?) throughout the novel. She isn’t afraid of doing what she thinks she must in order to protect Cynlira as a whole, which usually means doing some pretty gruesome things. At the end of the day, though, I still rooted for her. For years, the nobility class sat back and ignored the anguish and break-backing labor the lower class has put in for the hopes of scraps because, simply, they think they can have their cake and eat it. They force the masses into grueling work so they can reap the benefits for themselves and throw people away when they become just a bit too loud in their protests. I suppose Lorena isn’t a likable character in the traditional sense, but I loved her regardless.
And Alistair…just. My goodness. He respects Lorena and the other wroughts that are working with him, and he isn’t afraid of being corrected by them, which is miles better than how many of the noble people treat “regular” folks throughout Cynlira. It was charming to see.
However, it still had a bittersweet bite to it: he respects Lorena and the others as far as he sees their use and value. He likes them because they’re as invested in the research about the Door as he is, but beyond that…he is still the vilewrought Prince. If they were just regular joe blow on the street, he wouldn’t think twice about them. He is still a bloodthirsty person who won’t stop to get what he wants. To see Lorena struggle with this side-by-side with her budding feelings (platonic, romantic, or otherwise) had me eating this book up.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the side characters! They were all delightful; I just wish we could see them more. Creek and Carlow — a noblewrought and a vilewrought who have also been cursed by a Noble and Vile respectively — were fun to read, especially when they were together. Basil was adorable, and I would protect them with my life, no questions asked. The three of them working for/with Alistair on the Door was an interesting dynamic I wish we got to see more of, honestly. Let’s be real, though, these characters could be reading the back of a cereal box, and I would lap it up because I simply love them that much.
Julian, Lorena’s friend, and his father Will were characters that I just loved to hate. They’re the kinds of people that we all know, the ones who make it seem like they care about everyone, when they truly only care about themselves and maybe closest to them. In truth, they would let the whole burn if they were able to live, even if they have to do exactly what their oppressors have done to them.
All of the characters really shined (yes, even the characters the reader is supposed to hate — they shined in being the most annoying characters ever), but I think what really intrigued me was the world-building.
What We Devour takes place in a country called Cynlira, where the rich thrive and everyone else is left to the wolves. Or, in this case, the Door, the gate between the mortal world and the world in which Vile and Noble exist. The Door must be given human sacrifices in order to satiate it. Otherwise, it risks opening and thrusting the Noble and Vile upon the nation. Recently, the Door has become increasingly insatiable, needing more and more sacrifices more frequently to stay closed.
There are people throughout Cynlira known as noblewrought and vilewrought — people who can do certain types of magic thanks to having parts of the Noble and Vile gods. Some folks also have the ability to be both, a dualwrought. However, many of them do not have the freedom they wish for — most wrought are found and forced over to the Crown in order to be bound to some nobleman so they can do their dirty work magic and nothing else.
I will be straightforward in saying that the world-building can be A Lot when first starting out. It can be confusing, and I had to re-read passages sometimes in order to fully understand what was being conveyed. However, I will also say that this may be the first book where I was excited to learn more about the world. I was actively looking forward to when the characters discuss more about the Door and the Vile/Noble. The noblewrights, vilewrights, noblewroughts, and vilewroughts. Dualwroughts.
Outside of the characters, this is why I wish there was a sequel planned. Or, better yet, that it was going to be part of a 12-book series where I could get lost in the world and characters. I always had this craving for more. If someone had to twist my arm and ask what I thought the weakest part of the book is, it probably would be the world-building simply because I never felt like I got the full picture. Functionally, yes, I did get enough that I understood what was going on, but damn, I wish I could’ve gotten a whole encyclopedia to pick through. A whole Cynlira: A History to read. That would’ve really topped the cake and make this book a step above the “absolutely phenomenal” it already was.
In all honesty, even though I just said the world-building is probably the weakest thing about What We Devour, it was still plenty enjoyable for me, and it kept me captivated throughout my whole reading experience. And ya know what? You wanna know what really made this book shoot up to my top 3 favs of the year? Ya ready for this? It’s the themes. The themes, oh my goodness, y’all. You’re not ready for the themes.
Let me just say that if I still have any brain cells left after I’m finished with grad school, the first thing I’m doing is writing an academic-level essay on the themes in this here book, y’all. I just. What We Devour has it all: the harsh realities of capitalism! asexuality and how many ace folks constantly have to “prove” ourselves! the moral dilemma of how far is too far if you’re trying to tear down the existing system and build something new! and more!
Excuse me as I scream because the way these were all executed throughout the book was…so good. The anti-capitalism themes were immediately apparent throughout every strand of the story. The exploration of asexuality and acephobia through Lorena and her relationship with Julian was very validating to read and absorb. Seeing an ace character so damn confident in their identity right off the bat was something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it in action, and it was amazing to see.
The discussion surrounding how far is “too far” when creating a new society was interesting for me because I’m constantly thinking about what we could do in our current society, how we could tear shit down to create something better. Is there a limit to what we should or should not do in order to create a just world? Are there needed sacrifices, or are all sacrifices unjustified? Who gets to choose these things? It was compelling to think about, at the very least.
So, yeah, if you couldn’t tell already, I really enjoyed What We Devour. If you’re into dark fantasy, anti-capitalist themes, ace girls who will stop at nothing to save the proletariat and watch the rich suffer, monster gods….well, you’re in for a treat with this one. While the plot can be subtle and the world-building a bit confusing, I feel like the characters and themes definitely make up for it. I just can’t put into words how much I love this book, y’all.
I can’t exactly end this review by saying “be ace, do crimes, eat the rich”….except I totally can, it’s my review.
Be ace, do crimes, eat the rich.
SO. This is set up a lot different than my previous reviews, huh? I have CW and the Quiet Pond to blame for that (except not really blame because it helped a lot!). They have a blog post chock-full of review prompts that have really helped me flesh this review out! Here is the post in question, and this is their Ko-fi page if, like me, you’ve found this post super, super helpful. I just wanted to give credit where credit is due!
(Also, lemme know how you like the new set-up, please? I think I’m gonna tweak a few things going forward, but I’m always open to hearing new ideas!)
- Mention of cannibalism
- Blood and gore
- Self-harm for magical purposes
- Human sacrifice
- Acephobia (moderate amount)
- Ace girl MC
- Wlw SCs
- Non-binary SC
- Side characters of color
Title: What We Devour
Author: Linsey Miller
Pub. Date: 6 July 2021
Genre: Dark Fantasy
About (via StoryGraph):
“Undertaker Lorena is comfortable in her quiet life. She knows what her future holds, anonymity and a marriage to her best friend Julian. But when the notorious Crown Prince Alistair arrives at her doorstep with an arrest warrant for Julian’s father, her life changes in an instant.
“The Prince immediately recognizes that Lorena is powerful and whisks her away to the capital in exchange for Julian’s father’s freedom. With Alistair she learns more about her power, as well as the danger facing the entire country.
“As a rebellion between the rich and powerful and the poor and downtrodden erupts, Lorena becomes less sure of her loyalties. Should she trust the boy she thought she loved and the world she thought she knew? Or should her faith lie with the boy she barely knows who has everything to lose?”
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