Title: All or None
Author: Aurora Lee Thornton
Series: Star Stories #1
Genre/s and Tags: Young Adult, LGBT, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Romance
In a world where everyone has a soulmate, uniquely powerful mage Royiora and reluctant assassin Kalo collide in the worst of ways.
Royiora Daralkaen, the only mage alive able to use all five kinds of magic, has a near idyllic childhood in the country of Porescalia – before war breaks out with their antagonistic neighbors, Kloria.
Kalo Porla, a naturally magic-proof individual known as a Null, is trained to be as an assassin by the authoritarian empire known as the Domain.
When Kalo and his partner assassin are sent to kill a mage and his apprentice, it starts a journey neither man was prepared to begin.
Content warnings: harm to children, physical and psychological abuse, implied (off-page) rape, violence, mature language, minors in implied sexual situations (teenaged romance), implied sexual situations, bigotry towards fictional races, and suggestive language.
I received an ARC from Caffeine Tours & the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Royiora’s life didn’t truly begin until he was adopted by two war heroes: Phalianeon and Korila. The two soliders know they have a lot cut out for them when Roy displays affinities for all five types of magic. Across the kingdom, Kalo Porla, a Healvithi with a talent for absorb every kind of magic (a null) trains to be an assassin at the Institute. Destined to be soulmates, the two collide in the worst way possible, on opposite sides of a war.
“Fuck you, I’m delightful.”
That is my favorite quote of the entire book. I just love it so much. It’s said by Hult, one of Kalo’s fellow trainees. At first, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hult, she was a bit of a bully. But seeing the shit her and Kalo go through, we see her come to depend on Kalo and trust him. I loved their friendship. I’m also a sucky for prickly people, they are me. Hult also had so many good zingers.
“Every time they try to take something away from me, I get to decide whether or not they succeeded. This has never defined me.”
This book is also being added to my unofficial list of “gayest shit ever” and that is trademarked. This world was incredibly queer-normative and I want that so badly to be my reality. There are soulmates in this world, but it’s not limited by gender, ethnicity or even monogamy! There are several people who have more than one soulmate and I have never seen that before but I AM HERE FOR THIS.
“Being soulmates isn’t a pass for working on your relationship-you’ll still need to put in the work. Learn to compromises. Learn when you can’t compromise. Talk to each other. Be honest, and open.”
My favorite part of this book was the child-parent relationship between Roy, Korila and Lian, especially Roy and Lian. This found family was everything and I loved them so much. I also loved the extended family Roy was brought up with. His childhood was so happy after his adoption and it made for a stark contrast to Kalo’s upbringing. Kalo didn’t really see his family much after starting in the Institute. I was so glad he was close with his sister Rela though, those two gave me a lot of hope for the future of the Healvithi.
“Sometimes, other people think they know what’s best for you. So even though it makes you miserable, they’ll make you do things you don’t want to do.”
We only get hints of what I think the series progression will be. Most likely something involving Kalo and Roy attempting to take down the insidious Institute he was trained at. There’s still a lot of the world building that’s a mystery at this point. But I am intensely curious. I want to learn more about all of the countries and what exactly makes up the Domain and Trinity.
“You didn’t let anyone down. You did your best, and sometimes that isn’t good enough. And it’s okay.”
I loved both Roy and Kalo as characters, but I’m not quite sold on their relationship yet. They have a lot to work through before I can ship it. And it’s going to be several hard conversations, but that emotional vulnerability between them will cement their relationship and allow them both to truly fall for each other. I’m hoping this will be a focus of book two. I’m also wondering if Kalo might be ace? There’s been some signs that could point to him being ace or somewhere on the ace spectrum, so I’m hopeful!
“What, you mean you can’t use magic to unfuck about ten years of fuckery over afternoon tea?…Shocking.”
Okay this is the last thing because this review has become a critical essay. I loved how therapy was totally normalized. So many people go to therapy and Roy and Lian both specialize in being counselors within the healing field. I would like more normalization of therapy in fantasy worlds please.
About the Author:
Aurora is a nonbinary, asexual writer with a new goal in life: to write the queerest books possible. (And yes, xe means gay, but also weird is good too.) Xe loves dragons and fantasy, and someday hopes to complete a (soft) science fiction novel as well. Currently, xe lives with xyr two cats.
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