Title: Beneath the Citadel
Author: Destiny Soria
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 480
Publisher: Amulet Books
Notable Notables: Diverse, LGBTQA+ characters
Recommended Readers: Fans of ensemble casts, slower plots
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review—and sorry for the lateness.
I loved Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast and was greatly looking forward to this book, but after finishing it… Iron Cast was better by far.
I’ve had a hard time determining if Beneath the Citadel just isn’t for me, or if it isn’t for me right now. Would I have enjoyed it more if I was in a better mood for it, or would my thoughts still be the same? Unfortunately, I have absolutely no urge to reread it to find out, but who knows? Maybe I will someday.
The novel takes place in the fictional city of Eldra, where infallible prophecies determine events and the fate of the people. The High Council rules with an iron fist, taking advantage of the gifts of rooks, diviners, seers, and sentients to prevent threats to their power. As a result, the last rebellion was crushed underfoot, leaving only their children as bitter survivors. Cassa, the daughter of rebels, seeks to expose the council’s corruption and overthrow them, and the key to doing so lies beneath the Citadel—but she and her friends have to break in and get there alive first.
Before I get more into the plot, let’s talk about my reactions to the characters.
Cassa is normally a character I like, one on a revenge quest, but she doesn’t do much for me. She’s full of anger, hatred, and conviction but waffles once it’s game time. I’m just generally bored by her and unimpressed. We spend more time with her waxing on and on about how she’s trying to live up to her legendary rebel parents than about her. I get that she feels inadequate, but she never rises from this until the end, and it was just exhausting to read about continuously.
Alys is a decent character, but I don’t feel any great care or connection to her, either. I like that she is an overweight, ace character who experiences anxiety attacks. The attacks especially are depicted excellently in how they can creep up on you and take over your entire being and state of mind.
However, not much about her weight seems to affect her overmuch, and her sexuality isn’t mentioned beyond a brief nod, so I don’t feel like good representation comes through as much as it should. I like that she is a steadfast, no-nonsense person with a tough outer shell that hides her doubts and insecurities, but as a result, she tends to stay in the background outside of her POV chapters. I wish she stood out more throughout; she feels more like an afterthought.
Newt, meanwhile, is probably the character with the most interesting past and skillset. The son of a rebel who ultimately betrayed the rebellion in exchange for comfort, Newt’s trying to make a difference. His father is the source of his hatred and suffering. He literally attacked Newt as a child to teach him to be faster, to escape from anything. Newt is extremely double-jointed, so he can bend his body in ways the average person can’t, including popping his joints out of place, squeezing in impossible spaces, and so on.
His father harshly conditioned him to be able to do this, so in exchange, Newt has a lot of built-up trauma from his childhood that he does a swell job of hiding from the others. He bandages his joints both to brace them but also because he’s terrified that one day, he’ll end up breaking himself. Otherwise, he’s a generally kind, calming person. He’s also gay and crushing hard on Evander. I’d honestly read a book just about Newt.
Evander is also okay as far as characters are concerned. I liked him better than his sister Alys because he stood out on the page more. He has a joke or wise crack for every occasion, usually to break up tension or to hide his own insecurities. He underwent tremendous pain to be bloodbonded to silver, and since he survived, he’s able to control silver at will.
It’s hard for me not to compare him to Jesper from Six of Crows, because he, too, is Black, bisexual, and the flippant, long-range attacker on the team. But when all’s said and done, they are slightly different characters, and it’s perfectly within the realm of reality to have two Black male characters with a sense of humor who are bisexual. I think he and Jesper would be fast friends. I do enjoy his slowburn romance with Newt, which is described enough and with the best pacing a standalone book can offer. It’s very believable as a result.
Vesper is sort of part of this group. They are friends until she betrays Cassa and the others to the Citadel, ultimately for their own good. Vesper is one I’m going back and forth on. I understand her motivations and agree with them as the book goes on, but she’s not a particularly interesting character. Like Cassa, she’s kinda just there and since she’s separate from the main cast most of the time, I don’t believe their connection to her that much, convenient flashbacks aside. The most interesting thing about her is how she’s able to use her rook ability to combat a sentient’s ability and also protect other people’s memories from being stolen. There’s not much to her personality, though.
Solan is my favorite character behind Newt who is tragically underutilized. He needed so much more page time. Solan saved me from DNF’ing this book at around 50%, if I’m being honest. Newt and Evander alone weren’t enough to carry it. I can’t give too much detail about Solan without spoiling anything, but let’s just say, he is incredibly interesting and terrifying, and the ending was super anticlimactic. He deserved better.
The hardest thing to get into, though, is the story itself. For a heist-like book, it sure does like to meander. Because of the multiple POVs, we’re in character’s heads a lot, which normally, I don’t mind. Here, though, there’s far too much repetition of information, most of which served as exposition or did nothing to compel the plot forward.
The worst culprit of this was Cassa’s POV, but nearly every character also waxes on with her about her legendary parents, about the Citadel’s grip on society, about infallible prophecies and fate versus free will. This is great information to have, but why are we still repeating it even halfway through the story? This repetition made it much more difficult to slip into this world and enjoy most of these characters and what they were doing at any given time.
Another big problem keeping the plot from really taking off is how passive to the plot all the characters are. Maybe that was deliberate because it keeps the reader wondering: Do these characters have free will, or is everything they do predetermined and commanded by prophecy? These are important questions to ponder, to be sure, but it makes for an unexciting book. There’s only so many times I can watch Cassa get caught by Citadel guards in the middle of her plans before my eyes just glaze over and I wonder, “What’s the point?”
Ironic, because that’s a question that the characters ask themselves throughout the novel. What’s the point in all our struggling if our enemies know what we’re going to do before we even do it? What’s the point in trying to make a difference? Again, excellent questions. I just wish the novel let the characters address them a bit more actively. It’s almost like, in this case, instead of the main characters being overpowered, the Citadel is, to the point where the characters can barely do anything that’s impressive or meaningful. Time to nerf these bastards.
The ending did inspire some bittersweet feelings, but, overall I’m finding I’m dissatisfied with it and by the plot, where we went with it, and how things were resolved. I kind of feel like so much of what the main crew did was pointless given what actually happened, and I’m certain I’m not supposed to feel that way. The actual writing style was fine. I just didn’t care much for the story or most of the characters.