Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria. ★★★★
I knew anything by Destiny Soria would be amazing, and Beneath the Citadel did not disappoint. It’s kind of like a queer, young adult version of Lies of Locke Lamora.
The city of Eldra is ruled by prophecies, and the high council’s control over the prophecies is what lets them maintain power. When they heard that the lower wards of the city were planning to rebel, they struck preemptively and instigated a rebellion that has only now, many years later, been put down.
Cassa’s the daughter of dead rebels, and she desperately wants to overthrow the council. But the rebellion is over, and she doesn’t have a movement — only a few friends. When she and her friends are caught breaking into the Citadel, they head into the tunnels below to escape. Beneath the citadel, they find one more prophecy: that Cassa will overthrow the council. But prophecies are only as trustworthy as the prophets that make them…
Beneath the Citadel is a standalone, young adult fantasy novel. If the characters were sorted into Dungeons and Dragons classes, they’d pretty much all be rogues, and the story has heist-like elements even if it’s not a straight-up heist. The plotting is very twisty. Even if I guessed some general directions, I had no idea how our protagonists would resolve the conflict and (hopefully!) escape with their lives while changing the city for the better. Comparisons to Six of Crows are probably inevitable, but I thought the protagonists of Beneath the Citadel were far more realistic teenagers.
While I only mentioned Cassa in the synopsis, Beneath the Citadel actually has multiple POV characters. And I liked all of them! Vesper is Cassa’s longtime best friend… and the person who just betrayed her, telling the guards about the plan to break into the Citadel. She’s got her reasons for what she’s doing, and she’s working on plans even more complicated than Cassa’s. Alys has minor prophecy powers that she hates to use; she’d far rather save the day through the skills she learned as an apprentice apothocary. She’s also asexual and has an anxiety disorder, and in those regards, she was a lot more like me than almost any character I’ve read about before. Evander is Alys’s brother and Cassa’s ex-boyfriend (they’re on amicable terms). He’s survived a ritual that bonded him to silver, which he can now control. He’s also bisexual and falling for Newt, the last member of the group. Newt’s gay, but more importantly, he’s also the son of a traitor to the rebellion, which makes him an outsider. He may not be responsible for his father’s betrayal, but people still judge him for it. He’s also a contortionist and able to easily slip out of any manacles.
It’s a lot of characters, and the sheer number could easily have become overwhelming… but it never did. Soria expertly characterizes each of them, giving them their own personalities, motivations, and voices. I never once got confused about whose perspective I was in.
Beneath the Citadel is probably my favorite fantasy book ever to deal with prophecy. I think with most every fantasy book I’ve read, prophecy is generally just a plot device or a way to make the protagonist special. In Beneath the Citadel, Soria places prophecy center stage. What would it be like if you knew what the future held in store? And if the people in power use that knowledge to continue their power? How do you go up against that?
I also loved how prophecy was integrated into the world, to the point where it underpinned the entire society of Eldra. On the subject of world-building, I appreciated that Eldra itself was such a small part of the world, insignificant to the people who don’t live there. Eldra isn’t even a city-state or a capital city — it’s just a small city, no longer prominent, in the backwaters of a larger kingdom. This story wasn’t about the fate of an entire kingdom, and yet it was still wonderfully powerful. Fantasy stories don’t always have to be about saving the world.
Beneath the Citadel kept me gripped to the page at every turn, and I’m so glad I made the time to read it before the year was out. Now I can include it in my best releases of 2018!