In the Dominion of Aleznuaweite, anyone can rise to the greatest heights—if they are willing to pay the price.
Failure is a luxury Rahelu can’t afford. Her family sold everything, left their ancestral home, and became destitute foreigners for the sake of her resonance skills. Now she can manipulate emotional echoes to discern truth from lies, conjure the past, and even foretell the future.
But an act of petty revenge by her rival destroys her chance at joining one of the great Houses. Desperate to prove her family’s sacrifices were not in vain, Rahelu calls upon the most dangerous magic of all—altering fortune.
A slight twist of fate is enough to restore her way forward…with deadly consequences she never bargained for. The Houses make a pawn of her in their bitter struggle for control of the Dominion. A shadowy cult grows ever closer to completing an ancient ritual.
And Rahelu discovers that fulfilling her oath to her family might come at the cost of her mother’s life.
Petition is Delilah Waan’s debut fantasy novel and book one in the Resonance Crystal Legacy. When this book dropped into our pile, the awesome front cover and the blurb immediately caught my eye. An emotion-based magic system, an epic fantasy set solely in a city and a protagonist whose entire motivations are based on family really got my hopes up for a terrific read. Did it live up to my expectations?
We are quickly introduced to our protagonist Rahelu, a common-born foreigner, whose family gave up their life in rural Chanaz, and immigrated to the city in the hopes of putting their daughter’s resonance skills to use by obtaining a place among one of the great Houses. One of the themes that really hit me was that of immigration and the struggle for immigrants to be allowed opportunity and the economic means to integrate into the society and culture of where they have settled. Rahelu’s family is burdened by abject poverty and debt, saving every penny that they have to ensure that their daughter has the education, in this case the means to get a contract with one of the Houses, to allow her a secure and fulfilling life. The racism against them is rife, such slurs such as “dumb Chanazian ghelik” are often spat out by house-born folk in Aleznuaweite. Rahelu along with her mother and father are very much beleaguered and downtrodden. This theme certainly made me think about my white privilege and how our capitalist system is biased against giving refugees and immigrants a chance for a new life.
What I really loved about the character of Rahelu was that she didn’t use her background and circumstance to feel self-pity or defeatism. The author’s characterisation of Rahelu is one of my favourite aspects of the story. Rahelu’s tenacity, stubbornness and brusque manner is offset beautifully by her unwavering devotion and love for her family and her determination to be the best that she can be. I found it a joy to make the journey with her and see her succeed in, occasionally joining her in her glee to stick it to the house born.
The supporting cast is full of memorable characters. Lhorne Ideth is a house-born who becomes something of a love interest for Rahelu and forms a romance sub-plot that many fantasy romance readers will enjoy. I was pleased that Rahelu’s decisions throughout the story, particularly towards the end are motivated by family, rather than fawning. Nheras is a house born full of arrogance, superiority, and an unfounded hatred towards common born. She despises Rahelu to her core and their rivalry plays a huge part throughout the story. Several of their scenes together made my blood boil!
I found the magic system fascinating. It is based on the manipulation of emotion to feel the resonance of events of the past (Evocation), events yet to pass (Augury) and it’s use in combat by projecting (Projection) or blocking (Obfuscation) emotion. What this does is create an intimate relationship between user and magic that I found gratifying as a reader. Crystals are in important aspect to the magic, acting as focusing tools and wells of power for the user. Furthermore, the way the author displays this resonance in her prose, I found particularly effective.
Delilah Waan’s writing is rich and engaging with a pacing that finds just the write amount of balance needed. The majority of the book covers the petitioning and the tests involved in order to be considered as a potential employee. Kind of like a really, really difficult job interview. The various challenges and puzzles involve putting the various resonance skills to use as well as putting the candidates physical and mental prowess to the test. You could say it falls into the ‘magic school’ sub-genre, but what makes this standout is that the entire city is the playground in which the ‘lessons’ occur.
I do have a few personal qualms, though nothing major. I did find the many house names and their various Atriarches and family members, confusing at times. They all begin with ‘I’ that didn’t really help. Also, as much as I enjoyed the house born and common born divide and the sense of conflict and competition it created, I did find it was a little simplistic in nature, but this didn’t detract me from my enjoyment of the story in such a way as to be detrimental.
I found Petition a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging read, full of fantastic characterisation, the core themes are explored throughout, and it is an action-packed, entertaining fantasy story. I, for one, really look forward to book two and discover what’s in store for Rahelu.
Waan immediately throws readers into the deep end, trying to unravel the nuances of a hard magic system and a deeply political society. The details of the magic system are so interesting, resonance crystals play a critical role in how well a magic user can master each discipline. This quickly established a theme of wealth and how having it promotes people upwards in society. While those without wealth, such as immigrants, find it incredibly challenging to advance in society. Rahelu is the daughter of an immigrant family that works incredibly hard, every penny going towards her education and their loans for housing. She has an amazing work ethic instilled in her.
Rahelu was immediately such a compelling character. She is tenacious, stubborn and determined sometimes to a fault. Immediately we see her problem-solving skills put to the test when her rival, Nheras rips up her Petition. She’s creative and a risk-taker and that serves her well throughout the trials. I was immediately drawn in, rooting for Rehelu in her successes and feeling her despair in the losses.
The set up is that one day per year, Petitioners present the proof of their studies and then are potentially accepted as Petitioners. There are then further trials to whittle down Petitioners to ultimately gain patronage from an individual House. Houses control various aspects of society, be it certain trade routes or other important relationships. As Luke mentioned this is a “magic-school” but in a post education sense. The foundation of knowledge has been built and now it’s about testing that knowledge and finding a place in society.
The only thing I struggled with was the confusion with the Houses, as Luke mentioned each of them started with “I” deliberately so, but it was challenging to keep track of which was which and it was also important to do so.
“What was the night without the stars, the earth, the sea? A void. A wound in existence.”
Waan’s prose was fantastic, the pacing moved quickly but also paused when required to build up to impactful moments. There was a balance that was struck, and all the pieces clicked into place for me. Reading Petition was a delight.
Real talk: Petition is the book that made me decide to help judge this year. I wasn’t going to, at first, but as the allocations came in, I was helping out in the background with due diligence for the team. The book keeping stuff, like making sure entries were long enough to meet requirements, making sure they self published, etc.
Petition caught my eye as I was working, so when the big task of scoping out 30 books was finished, I reward myself by taking a lil peek. And I fell in love instantly.
Delilah Waan’s voice is effortless, interesting, comfortable. Familiar and yet unique. Little details like magic ink got me excited. An excellent balance between prose and world building and action kept me hooked. So, I let Boss Beth know that I was on board for another year if only so I could take on the mantle of being this book’s champion. 30 books is a lot, after all, and I didn’t want it to fall through the cracks.
I need not have worried.
As I kept reading, Rahelu had me laughing (literally) out loud. She’s witty, sarcastic, hard-headed, but it never feels heavy handed or over the top for effect. She’s also grounded in very relatable love for her family and a desire to give back a little of what her parents sacrificed to give her a shot at a better life. As I said before, there is much that is familiar in Petition. A young girl carries the weight of her family’s hope by throwing herself into the world’s school system, with the intention of building a better life. Her parents have so little to give because of their station in the culture’s hierarchy, and yet they give it anyway. People who have more power give her a helping hand. Others try to kick her back down. As a writer who revels in a little bit of class rage myself, I have to say I’m of the opposite opinion of Luke with regards to the portrayal of the class power dynamics. Petition is so imbued with honest, earnest love of the genre and of family, that it positively glows from within. Added to that glow, Waan gives the story a bit of a unique angle by actually skipping over the school part and dropping Rahelu into the mires of job hunting. Sure, she scraped through her magic education, but now what? Will it all have been a waste, or can she claw a little bit of space for herself in a field that seems to be rather inundated with nepotism?
“No, not just allowed it. Encouraged it. She summoned every single moment of hope and anger and frustration that she had kept dammed up inside since they had arrived in this stupid, stinking, House-born-infected city; she let all those roiling emotions flood out of her body and into the world. Let them all know.”
Waan’s prose is a balance of pain and wit, offering hilarious highs and heart-wrenching lows. The magic system is doled out well so it never feels infodumpy, but I always know enough to understand what’s going on.
My quibbles are only minor, and more personal in nature: mostly, there’s something about the action scenes that are a little bit distant, which at times made it hard for me to track what was happening. I had to read over some of the physical altercations more than once just to track what was going down, but I believe this was a style choice on Waan’s part. It seems the narration focuses more on how Rahelu feels and the chaos, which considering they are pretty chaotic fight scenes, is a valid focus! It just left me wishing for a bit more details so I could track how it happened, but as I said, that’s personal taste. I agree with Luke that having the house names all start with the letter I was a bit of a hurdle for me, but I got there eventually XD
I could go on forever and ever about how much I love this book, but since my teammates have already spoken (thus proving I didn’t need to worry about this book falling through the cracks), perhaps instead I should just steal the spotlight and announce:
Congratulations to Delilah Waan, Before We Go has selected Petition as a semi-finalist.
Delilah Waan is a literal bookworm who alphabetically devours her way through the shelves at her local library.
Her preferred diet is fantasy epics—full of complex intrigue, morally ambiguous characters and tragic ends—though she does enjoy the occasional quippy, fast-paced action adventure. (Sappy romances, however, give her indigestion.)
When she’s not binge-reading the next doorstopper on her TBR or engaging in frantic theory crafting in between Brandon Sanderson and Will Wight book releases, she likes to spit bars in her best Angelica Schuyler impression and walk her cat.