The Continent – Keira Drake – The Continent #1 – Harlequin TEEN – Published 3 January 2017
For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.
The Continent is an interesting sort of fantasy novel – no magic, but set in a new and strange world that is half old-world traditions and some of today’s technology where peace and civility reigns and half a land torn apart by war, where the inhabitants fight the elements and each other to survive.
Vaela lives a safe and privileged live in the Spire, where there has been no wars for many years. She is a cartographer and thrilled when her parents gift her with a trip to the Continent, where the landscape is rugged and a bloody war is still fought between the natives. But Vaela’s exploration of the Continent ends in disaster and she is left alone to fight for survival, both against the icy and treacherous landscape and the natives. But as she makes a home there, Vaela learns to look anew at life on the Continent and hopes the war can somehow be ended before she once again loses everyone she holds dear.
It is the writing that makes this book, that sets it apart from other books. The writing truly creates the setting, with the old-worldly phrasing evoking images of the Edwardian era of long dresses, suits and hats, propriety and old fashioned traditions.
The pacing of this book is very interesting. For the most part it feels slow. Not uninteresting, but it takes its time to establish the setting and characters, let’s the reader get to know the situation before events slowly unfold. For example, the scene of Vaela’s life in the Spire is well established before she and her parents journey to the Continent. And there is a good portion of the book that takes place before Vaela becomes stranded on the Continent, and again as Vaela stops to grieve her family and then learns to live with the native people of the Continent. Yes it means that the book isn’t action-packed, but it makes the most of all the emotions involved.
The romance, too, follows the sedate pacing of the novel, with Noro and Vaela spending many months together (and apart) after first meeting before they decide to act upon their awareness of each other and start a strong relationship. Their chemistry is a quiet contentedness, a peace when they are together, that is very lovely to read. Vaela is so innocent, hopeful and good intentioned. And Noro, while an assassin, is gentle, loves fiercely and grieves his family. I loved both characters, as well as all the other vibrant faces, both from the Spire and the Continent (though I was very happy to see the back of Mrs Shaw).
There was a whole lot less harsh survival than I expected. Yes, when Vaela is initially stranded on the Continent she is exposed to the harshness of the environment and peoples who live there, but once she is rescued and goes to live with the Aven’ei people, she resumes a life where there are houses and markets and plenty of food and jobs (even if it’s a job she isn’t used to). But the last quarter of the book brings with it action, battle and bloodshed (I liked that bit and thought it a great end to this book).
I’m very curious about how this series will progress. There is so much room for this story to expand, and yet I would be perfectly happy to return to the simplicity of life in the Aven’ei village, where family and friendship are valued in the midst of their desperation for survival.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: War, family, grief, survival, maps, plane crash, cartography, love, romance.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: Violence, descriptions of war, beheadings and killing.
Published: 3 January 2017 by Harlequin TEEN
Series: The Continent #1
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 320 pages.