By Sarah Daltry
Upon starting Dust by Sarah Daltry, my first thoughts were somewhere along the lines of, "Oh great, another teenage girl who's going to save the world." But there are some books that just speak for themselves and put the reader in her place when it comes to prejudging without proper evidence in either direction, and this is definitely one of those.
So yeah! Oh great, indeed, another teenage girl who's put in charge of saving the world! When we meet Alondra, it's with stark, disorienting time jumps from past to present, from insolent, immature princess into commanding, brave, courageous leader of her people, and it's told in a way that made me sit up and take notice. The thing about YA novels that makes them so good is how relatable they are, but the thing that makes them even better is when they're inspiring, when they show you exactly what's inside all of us, even if we're only fourteen, or sixteen, or eighteen, like Alondra is when her world comes crumbling down around her, pretty literally.
And so a story is told, full of love and loss, discovery and betrayal and redemption and all of the age-old intriciacies that build an engaging tale fit for a reader of any age. Alondra learns that her parents are people too, a lesson that takes many years for children to figure out, that "evil" can take many shapes (and can capture you easily), and that light and love and compassion can come in unexpected forms and from unexpected places, no matter how much you fight against it. She's on a mission to find not only her own freedom and her own path, but to save her kingdom and her family and their traditions, and to restore the world that she's been set to inherit since birth, whether she wants it or not. It means sacrifices of the most brutal kind and decisions that are too heavy for anyone, much less a girl who is learning about love, family, and magic, and their places in the universe, for the very first time.
Fantasy has never been exactly my strong suit, but this novel pulled me in fairly quickly. There's a lot of information to take in-- we're learning about magic and history and alliances at the same time as Alondra is, and it can be overwhelming sometimes, but the writing style flows energetically in a way that invites you to keep reading more, to keep letting it pull you in until you can fit the pieces together with our heroine. It isn't the sort of book you can necessarily read without paying attention though-- the kingdom of Anara requires the entirety of your attention, which can be intimidating, but that's also sort of the appeal-- it just isn't the kind of thing you'd want to read if you're looking for something mindless.
Overall, I found Dust to be full of interesting, rich, complex worlds and characters who demanded my attention and kept me coming back for more. There's something wonderful about an author who can build such a detailed web with her storytelling, and I really enjoyed this about Sarah Daltry's work. It's part mystery and part fantasy and wholly epic, and I was always eager to dive back in and pick up where I'd left off. The time jumps in the beginning took a little getting used to, but ultimately I feel they were the best way to tell a story that required backstory before we were fully prepared to join Alondra on her journey. I truly can't say enough good things about this book, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes fantasy and/or YA novels, for anyone of any age who is interested in the treacherous quest from youth to adulthood, and from rock bottom to finding a way to climb back up the mountain toward its summit where the whole world is just waiting on us for the taking.