‘Year of the Reaper’ by Makiia Lucier is a dark epic fantasy that offers a glimpse of hope

This Year of the Reaper book review is a spoiler-free discussion of Makiia Lucier’s fantasy in which Lord Cas, long thought to be lost, returns home to face new trials and tribulations.

You need to look no further than the cover of Year of the Reaper to know this is a badass book, and let me tell you: The pages within do not disappoint. This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t wait to sing its praises for all to hear.

The premise is fairly straight forward—three years ago, Lord Cassia was taken prisoner. Thought to be dead, he survived imprisonment and the plague, able to finally return home of his own volition. And all that takes place within the opening chapter!

He is welcomed home with open arms by his brother, Lord Ventillas, as well as the king and queen, who have retreated into his castle in order to survive the plague. If you’re not quite ready for a story that centers around disease, I won’t blame you. This one is virulent and brings tragedy in its wake, but if you can stomach it, the story is well worth the heartache.

Unfortunately for Cas, his troubles are not over. While it’s nice to be home, he’s soon drawn into a mystery surrounding the royal family. Someone is targeting the queen and her closest confidantes, and Cas can’t help but ask all the right questions. Teaming up with Lena, a devoted historian who also happens to be the king’s sister, the pair of them fight to get to the bottom of this before death takes anyone else before their time.

When I opened the book and realized the story was centered around a plague, I couldn’t help but cringe just a little. It hits too close to home, although the story’s disease is more than just a little reminiscent of the Bubonic Plague. That said, isolation and vigilance against illness is at the forefront of the story, as is death.

However, Year of the Reaper offers so much more than a story about surviving disease. What struck me first was the warmth of the characters in this story. Cas leads the book, and despite three years of imprisonment and torture, he is a loving person who only wishes to see his life return to normal. When given a chance, he is more likely to grant mercy than to swing his sword.

Opposite him we have Lena, the king’s sister. She’s a kind, compassionate, intelligent woman who desires nothing more than to record the history of her kingdom. She brings out a side in Cas that he’s desperately lacking—one in which he sees the beauty of life and love—and their relationship throughout the book goes from a tentative allyship to one of deep friendship and trust. You can’t help but root for them to be together.

But this warmth does not stop with the two main characters. Cas’ brother, Ventillas, is a devoted friend of the king and loyal soldier of the crown. His reaction upon seeing his brother return is of unbridled joy. Their relationship is close, and it’s always a pleasure to see two grown men care for each other openly and without shame.

In many of these stories, the king and queen often play an adversarial role. They either hate each other, their subjects, or both. They’re often after more power, more riches, and more notoriety. But you’ll find none of that here.

King Rayan, a lifelong friend of Cas and Ventillas, is a good man. He has a balanced head and understands the power he yields. He does what is best for his kingdom and his family, despite how much it may hurt him personally. His queen, Jehan, is equally as graceful and intelligent. Though their marriage was one of political convenience, these two truly love each other.

You would think this would lead to bland, two-dimensional characters, and yet Makiia Lucier gives them all their own goals and flaws. She has made each of them complex in their own right, and when they are brought together to deal with the mystery before them, they must navigate their personal relationships, either to the detriment of the kingdom or their own lives.

What truly made this book stand out for me, however, was the mystery behind who was targeting the queen. As the synopsis says, “Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why.”

This portion of the book is intricately woven throughout the entire novel. There’s an explosive start to it within the first couple chapters, and the final reveal comes nearly at the end of the book. The way this was plotted, with clues revealed every so often, keeps you turning the pages, curious as to how it will be resolved and who will be affected most by the final revelation.

I am not often too shocked by the twists and turns of a book—the cost of being such an avid reader—and yet, I found my jaw on the floor when the time came to learn what was going on at the heart of this story. There are many layers here, and many more players; I’d be shocked if anyone was able to properly guess the full extent of this mystery.

The best villains are the heroes of their own story, and Lucier has crafted an antagonist you can understand, if not quite agree with.

I think my Year of the Reaper book review has made it clear that I loved this story. It’s well-written and easily paints a picture without being dense. It is a story about love and loss, death and rebirth, and most importantly, forgiveness and personal responsibility. If you’re looking for a standalone novel with a satisfying ending, look no further than this one.

‘Year of the Reaper’ hit store shelves on November 9, 2021

Buy Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

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