In Once a King by Erin Summerhill (released on December 4, 2018), a young king searches for a way to save his kingdom. This is undoubtedly a swoon-worthy spin-off of Summerhill’s Ever the Hunted and Ever the Brave that puts Aodren and Lirra on center-stage – amidst political intrigue and growing strife.
Aodren is a lonely, young king, searching for a way to dismantle his father’s dark legacy. Lirra is a girl with the power to control the wind, torn between duty and following her dreams. For twenty years, Channelers—women with a magical ability—have been persecuted in Malam by those without magic. Now King Aodren wants to end the bloody divide and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred can’t be overcome by issuing decrees, and rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fueling people’s fears. Lirra has every reason to distrust Aodren. Yet when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no. With Lirra by his side, Aodren sees a way forward for his people. But can he rewrite the mistakes of the past before his enemies destroy the world he’s working so hard to rebuild?
After being disappointed by the finale of Ever the Brave, I was really quite excited to dive into a story focused on Aodren and Lirra. Both characters really grew on me while reading Ever the Brave, and whatever else I thought of the book, it left me knowing that I wanted more of their story. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed by this one! Readers need to prepare their hearts for the swooniest king in YA Fantasy, and sharpen their wits to prepare for a a fierce heroine! With poignant prose and intricate world building, Once a King has everything fans of Summerhill and the genre have been waiting for – and so much more!
As I stated, I was already a huge fan of Aodren and Lirra before ever reading the first page of Once a King, so I may be a bit biased when it comes to my opinion of the characters in this book. But honestly, I think that you would be hard-pressed to find a reader that isn’t head-over-heels in love with Aodren. He cares deeply, loves truly, and fights honestly. It was touching to see from his perspective how much he truly cares about all his people – and how he only wants the best for Malam. Then there’s Lirra – she is confident, independent, and driven. She’s a Channeler (women who have influence over one energy it being land, air, fire, water, or spirit) who can control the wind. She is incredibly loyal to the people she loves and to her commitments, driving her forward in the face of both adversity and pain.
“It feels like we are two damaged ships at sea amidst a swell threatening to sink us, when all we really need to survive is each other.” – Erin Summerhill, Once a King
Individually, both Aodren and Lirra are powerful characters, but it is their relationship that really captured my heart. As can be expected, Aodren and Lirra’s lives quickly intertwine and with each other’s help they hope to fight for what they want in life and the people they love – even as the odds stack against them. The chemistry between the two is unbelievably powerful as well. Based on the interactions between the two of them during Ever the Brave, I was a little curious of how Aodren and Lirra would mesh when I first heard about Once a King. I needn’t have worried though, because the romance between the two was absolute perfection! It was honest, real, and the slowest burn. I always absolutely adored how respectful and caring Aodren was towards Lirra – he respected her reservations, and never pushed her to behave in a certain way to suit his agenda (even if it would have been more convenient). Instead, he treated her like and equal, and their equitable partnership grew naturally into a budding romance I couldn’t help but swoon over.
Finally, my favourite thing about this story was the plot. Unlike Ever the Brave, or even Ever the Hunted, this plot always had a clear direction – because in Once a King, Summerhill crafted a twist-riddled murder mystery that was lined not only with danger and deceit, but also political agendas and powerful prejudice. This made for a pretty fast paced and easy to read story that is sure to engage readers from beginning to end – because who doesn’t love a good mystery? Beyond that, Summerhill’s writing is strong and engaging, the world is vivid, and even the side characters felt like real, endearing people.
“If you want to bring about change, all you need to be is a voice. A voice loud enough to start a storm.” – Erin Summerhill, Once a King
Overall, I adored Once a King by Erin Summerhill. From powerful characters who managed to be both awe-inspiring and swoon-worthy at the same time, to rich storytelling and an intriguing mystery, Summerhill’s talents really shone in this one, and I can’t wait to read whatever comes next (5/5)!