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I’m on Jenna Moreci’s street team helping to promote her third novel The Savior’s Sister during the pre-sale campaign period, and I have received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review. Last week we wrote our reviews on Goodreads, and today we’re blasting our reviews out everywhere else! If you’d like to read my initial thoughts in my Goodreads review, check that out here. If you’d like to read or hear my longer, more marinated thoughts this week, you’re in the right place! You can listen to it on Thursday’s video from my art channel, embedded below, or read on for the review sections of the transcript.
My rating: 5 stars!
Video Review Transcript
Jenna Moreci is hosting a pre-sale giveaway! TSS is now available for pre-order in paperback and hardback on Amazon, in ebook on various platforms, and will also be offered as an audiobook. The release date is September 29th, and all the links you need to get in on that giveaway will be at the end of this post.
As a member of the street team for The Savior’s Sister I did receive a free advanced reading copy of the novel, but I promise my thoughts on this book are my own, and completely honest. If it was bad, I would have bowed out of the team. I’ll also say I did not give either of Jenna Moreci’s previous novels a full five out of five stars after I read those, I gave them fours. The Savior’s Sister, on the other hand, I rate five stars.
Disclaimer: I do not intend to spoil any major plot points in The Savoir’s Sister with the review I’m about to give, but I will be using examples of smaller things from the book, and I do have to spoil bits of the previous book, The Savior’s Champion, in order to properly discuss what’s going on in this book and why it’s so great.
The Savior’s Sister is book two in the four-book Savior Series, and it is the companion novel to book one The Savior’s Champion, which means it covers the same timeline as the first book, but comes from a different character’s point of view and handles different plots and events than what the first point of view character was aware of.
The setting is the kingdom of Thessen, a hot land which would be barren desert were it not for the constant healing blessing of the Savior. The Savior is Thessen’s magical queen, a gift from the gods whose radiant light is so powerful her pale skin quite literally glows in sunlight. Every Savior takes a husband, titled the Sovereign, the king of the land. Every Savior eventually becomes a mother, giving birth to just one child, always a daughter, and she is always born with the same magical light. When the young Savior comes of age, the Sovereign’s Tournament is held, a month long spectacle of trials and treachery that leaves one man standing from a pool of 30. This champion of the tournament wins the young Savior’s hand in marriage and becomes the next Sovereign. So the cycle has continued for hundreds of year, with each Sovereign working to maintain political relations for the kingdom and each Savior working to bless, heal and maintain the kingdom and its people.
But now things are different. The current Sovereign, Brontes, is power-hungry. He arranged the murder of his wife, the late Savior, late in her pregnancy. His hope was that he was killing both Saviors, ending the line, and that he would continue to reign over the land indefinitely by default. A midwife in the right place at the right time witnessed the assassination of the Savior and was able to deliver her daughter by cesarean section in time to save the new Savior. Chapter one of The Savior’s Sister opens on young Leila, a small child playing with her adopted sisters in the palace when she overhears her father bribing one of his senators to remain in his service. This man, it turns out, was the true assassin. Not the man who had been tried and tortured before the public. Leila learns for the first time that her father was responsible for her mother’s murder, and in that instant, her childhood ends.
These are not truly spoilers, by the way. This information comes from the first chapter of both Savior books, which are freely available on Jenna Moreci’s website.
So the Savior’s Champion is written from Tobias’ point of view. Tobias is one of the 30 contestants in the Sovereign’s Tournament. His laurel is The Artist, and he is not favoured to win. That book followed him from the day before the pool to nominate one’s self for consideration for the tournament, through selection, and through the thirty days of the tournament. It follows the blossoming romance between Tobias and Leila, who has been visiting the competitors under the guise of palace healer while her fair-skinned sister Cosima plays the role of the Savior, but Tobias doesn’t know that. It shows us this unlikely victor win and lose various challenges as the tournament goes on and has us, the readers, rooting for him to win the tournament overall. We get hints here and there that all is not well, nor anything close to what it seems behind closed doors in the palace. We understand through Tobias’ interactions with Leila that Brontes has earned her fear and hatred, and that her life is in danger. We know that Leila has killed. We know that she’s falling in love with Tobias, but that she has moments of doubt. We know that Tobias loves her dearly, but that he’s utterly convinced that there’s no happy ending, because he believes Cosima is the Savior, and that means his future holds only death or marriage to a woman who isn’t Leila. He never picks up on the hints that are left for readers that Leila is in fact the true Savior, nor does he ever simply wish that she was the Savior instead of Cosima. Since I did pick up on those hints, as apparently most female readers do, it drove me nuts in the most enjoyably frustrating way that he didn’t, and that he didn’t wish for it either. The Savior’s Sister, on the other hand, is written from Leila’s point of view.
This time we get to witness all the things happening behind the scenes. We still get the interactions between Tobias and Leila, and in fact, much of those scenes contain word-for-word dialogue, but this time we get Leila’s emotions and inner thoughts as those conversations play out. More importantly, though, we get so many answers to so many questions. Questions we did have when reading The Savior’s Champion, and questions we didn’t. We get answers to little things like how the heck did Raphael get that deck of cards into the sanctuary, and why did one of the challenges turn out to be a giant version of exactly the game that deck was designed for? It wasn’t a coincidence.
We find out that Leila’s claim that the Savior can share her power is actually true, even though that’s not why Leila is able to do what she does, and Cosima is the one with borrowed tricks. It wasn’t just a clever lie to misdirect suspicions. We get to find out why Enzo and Raphael were chosen for release from the tournament. Hint: the reason for Enzo’s release it not what Tobias’ point of view would have you guess. We get to know more about all of Leila’s sisters, including how Delphi and Pippa became her sisters in the first place, though we don’t get Cosima’s origin story.
We find out that Bronte’s senate is a new installment in the palace, something that didn’t exist in previous generations, and that Leila has little to know real political power thanks to the quote-unquote “democratic process” that takes place at every senate meeting. The senators of course are all loyal to Brontes. Each makes himself a target in turn as information is revealed about what he knows, and what his role is in Brontes’ grand scheme. Brontes wasn’t able to kill Leila before she was born, and he hasn’t been able to kill her since, as it would look too suspicious. He wants to retain the peoples’ favour while he continues to rule, after all. That’s why he’s hired three assassins and inserted them into the tournament as competitors. He’s confident that one of them will win, marry Leila, and plans to have Leila’s groom murder her on their wedding night. Bronte’s hands appear to stay clean.
Despite the fact that The Savior’s Champion is literally all about the Tournament, a violent month-long battle to the death, The Savior’s Sister has a lot more action. We witness many of the challenges again from Leila’s perspective, but we also witness her assassinating those who work toward her own assassination.
The book isn’t all blood and gore, though. We also get a lot more warm moments between sisters, particularly Leila and Delphi. We find out that Leila also has another trusted loved one in the palace who she turns to for comfort at times, and this is Talos. In The Savior’s Champion, we didn’t know his name, though we did see him as the torturer in the “Stay Calm” challenge. In The Savior’s Sister, we find out that he was a competitor in the last Sovereign’s Tournament fighting for Leila’s mother’s hand, and that he was one of the two released competitors. We learn that release from the tournament isn’t what it appears to be, either. Talos is a prisoner in the palace, ordered to do Brontes’ bidding and otherwise shackled in his cell beneath the senate meeting room. He’s like a loving uncle to Leila, telling her stories of better times and of her mother when she visits him in secret. Additions of side characters like this in The Savior’s Sister are what makes this version of the story five stars to me, when the story told from Tobias’ point of view was only four stars.
The Savior’s Champion already did most of the world building work for the series, but because we’re now in the Savior’s head, we understand how precarious the kingdom’s current state of good fortune is. We learn that without Leila’s daily efforts to heal and maintain the land, a black plague waiting just below the earth would return and destroy the land. We also learn that political relations with neighbouring countries aren’t as peaceful as they’re meant to be, and that Brontes has been winning friends and enemies among the neighbouring rulers. The political landscape of this world is much more thoroughly explored in TSS, and this is absolutely necessary in order to truly understand why the Tournament Tobias found himself in has gone so terribly wrong.
Leila as a point of view character is a lot more compelling than Tobias, in my opinion, and it’s not just because she’s a woman. It helps that she’s a woman, I’m a woman, and the author is a woman, because we all understand the female brain, and it makes sense that Leila has a female brain. By that I mean it makes sense that Leila is always thinking about many things at once, always overthinking things, and sometimes making poor decisions that she knows are poor decisions because her compassion tells her they’re the right ones rather than her logic. In The Savior’s Champion, I think what went wrong for me with the narrative is the fact that I’m a woman reading what another woman attempted to filter threw a more typically male brain. Some of it just didn’t end up ringing true to me, either because Tobias was doing or saying or thinking something too stereotypically masculine, or because he wasn’t at all. It’s certainly true that it’s infinitely easier to write what you know.
And where I was constantly frustrated with Tobias for not picking up on things, even though I enjoyed that frustration to an extent, at some point it became tiresome. When Leila starts being equally obtuse or naive or willfully blind it rang true to me. I felt it in my heart and soul and understood why she thought and acted the way she did. Some of it’s because we’re both women, but some of it’s because Leila has lived such a traumatic life, and Jenna Moreci has done such a good job of conveying that trauma brain reality that I think people who aren’t living with that will still get it completely. It’s easy to understand and empathize with Leila.
Without spoiling this book’s very different late-game twists and turns, I will say it takes place during exactly the same span of thirty-odd days as The Savior’s Champion and leaves us on pretty much the same cliff hanger leading us into book three. So if you’ve read The Savior’s Champion already and you’re dying to know what happens next, I’m sorry to say this book does not hold those answers. What it does hold, however, is SO worth the read.
I know some people will inevitably pick up The Savior’s Sister first without reading The Savior’s Champion, so if you’re wondering if the two books can be read out of order, technically yes. There is enough world-building in The Savior’s Sister that you don’t need what was set up in The Savior’s Champion to understand it, and the characters and plots stand on their own beautifully. If you were jumping into this without prior knowledge of Thessen and the Sovereign’s Tournament, you would certainly not be lost and you would absolutely enjoy this book on its own merits. That being said, simply by knowing that this book is about the Savior Leila is in and of itself a spoiler for The Savior’s Champion if you weren’t going to pick up on Leila’s true identity, and there are twists and turns in The Savior’s Champion besides that reveal that probably wouldn’t feel that compelling if you already know what happened from this point of view.
The Savior’s Sister was written for an audience who’ve already read all of the challenges, so those don’t get the same treatment here, but the results of each challenge are known. The suspense of how each challenge will turn out is what drives The Savior’s Champion forward, so a lot of the magic would be lost from that first reading if you already knew the summary from The Savior’s Sister. I do strongly encourage you to read these books in the order the author intended. If you read The Savior’s Sister first then read The Savior’s Champion, the suspense will be lost, very few of the reveals big and small will be new information to you, and even a lot of the interaction between the competitors will read differently than the author intended because you’ll know more about their secrets and motivations than Tobias does due to Leila’s perspective interacting with all of them in The Savior’s Sister. Even though this is a companion novel, treat it like a sequel.
The Savior’s Sister Pre-Sale Links
Enter the pre-sale giveaway after you’ve placed your pre-order, and get excited reading the first three chapters for free while you wait. You can also listen to Jenna Moreci’s TSS playlist on Spotify, and check out TSS, TSC and general writerly merch on Jenna Moreci’s TeeSpring store.
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