Due to having a busy schedule of ARCs & blog tours over the past couple of months it took me way longer to start Braid of Sand than I would’ve liked, & after reading it I wish I’d started it earlier even more because it was so good. Braid of Sand is a Rapunzel retelling, but Raziela isn’t a damsel in distress – she’s a warrior protecting the lands of her goddess – & she totally kicks ass.
I was sent this book by Snowy Wings Publishing & Alicia Gaile in return for an honest review.
This book contains violence & starvation throughout!
Braid of Sand, as I’ve mentioned, is a Rapunzel retelling – of sorts – but it’s also incredibly unique & from the first few pages I knew that this was going to be a book unlike any other. For over 100 years Raziela has been training herself to be the best warrior she can be for her goddess, Naiara, so that she can protect the holy Realm of the Gods & keep her goddess happy. But, back in Raziela’s birth-world her people are starving & are losing faith in their goddess; which leaves Raziela with a choice. Does she stand by her beloved goddess, or does she abandon her role as protector & return to her homeland to help save her people?
Sound good? Well it’s even better than you can possibly imagine! Alicia Gaile has combined brilliant writing with a unique world, well-developed characters & addictive scenes throughout, to create a story that I dreamt about when sleeping & daydreamed about whilst working. I’m going to struggle to review this book coherently so please bare with me…
Okay, first things first – characters. We have two main characters that work as our protagonists; one is of course Raziela, & the other is a violent out-cast called Castien who lives in Raziela’s birth-world. Raziela is fiery from the start & her personality & dedication to her goddess jumps off the page throughout the entire book. Castien is more of a mystery – it takes time for the reader to get to know him & even when you think you’ve got him figured out, he surprises you again. I loved both of these characters for very different reasons, but something they shared was the fact that they’re both misunderstood by the people around them throughout the book. Even at the end of the book the pair still struggle to feel accepted.
There are also the characters that we could consider to be Raziela & Castien’s friends – Raziela is the last surviving priestess of the Great Mother Naiara & so the friends she has in the book are not human… instead they are mystical beings connected to the elements i.e. water, air & earth. Raziela’s friends are interesting because you can’t see all of them, & even the ones you can see are difficult to imagine because they don’t take on a form similar to humans at all. I really liked the inclusion of these characters & appreciated that even though they were forced to live with her, they didn’t all like the fact that Raziela was in the Realm of the Gods.
Castien’s friends are a group of criminal outcasts that all have brilliant skills in all things criminal, but all (most?) of them are also really intelligent too which I loved. Each one of Castien’s friends come with their own secrets & mysterious backgrounds, although none of them quite beat Castien’s story. The dynamic between Castien & his team is really interesting, because similarly to Raziela & her elemental friends, they don’t all necessarily “like” each other, but they are fiercely loyal & also see Castien as a type of leader.
Next, lets go for world-building – there are two main settings in Braid of Sand; the flourishing Realm of the Gods & the dying land of Phalyra. The Realm of the Gods is everything that I would want my heaven to be – it’s full of fields of healthy grass that go on for miles, orchards that are overflowing with beautiful fruits, sparkling hot water springs & animals that live in total harmony. Whenever I read scenes set in the Realm of the Gods my imagination overflowed with images of the paradise that it must have been for Raziela. Unfortunately, this idyllic land becomes tainted throughout the book & by the end readers no longer see it as being perfect.
Phalyra is almost the polar opposite of the Realm of the Gods – the people are starving & dehydrated, they’re unclean due to a lack of water & they live in misery, waiting for the day when their goddess may forgive them for their sins & revitalise their lands (or for their dodgy scientists to come up with a solution). Despite this, there are signs throughout the city of the thriving place it once was: with gorgeous mansions falling apart, brown fields that were once overflowing with food & a harbour that lays empty despite once being profitable place for trades & deliveries. Phalyra once praised Naiara resoundingly but when their king became bitter toward the goddess things changed for his people – & the question that echoes throughout this entire book is whether Phalyra will ever be able to repair itself.
This is such a long review & I promise I’m almost finished, but I can’t not mention the plot of this story, because as fantastic as the world-building & characters were, the plot kept me hooked from the very beginning to the very last page. The plot of this story is essentially a journey – a journey for Raziela, a journey for Castien, a journey for the goddess Naiara & for the people of Phalyra, but each of these journeys are incredibly deep, well thought-out & full of surprises, as well as perfectly entwined. The events in the book had me sat up rigidly in bed every night that I read it & left me with a massive book-hangover that’s still plaguing me days after finishing it.
Anyone who loves retellings, or just loves powerful female leads who go on life-threatening journeys of self-discovery will love this book & I recommend it to each & every one of you. Snowy Wings Publishing have released some of my favourite books, & Braid of Sand is certainly on that list. If you use one of the Amazon links to make a purchase I will receive a small fee at no cost to you so please consider doing so.
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