Secrets Kept

Blurb: With a curse, she will build an army.
With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice.
But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper.

Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father’s death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people’s bizarre behavior.

Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother’s disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil.

I enjoyed Secrets Kept (Hidden Dagger #1) by J.L. Mwebe and read it quickly – a lot happens and I had a difficult time putting it down or not thinking about it when I was doing other things. I adored a few characters and despised a few others. And I can’t wait to read the next because of those adored characters. Ayianna herself is understandable but frustrating. She’s got some major growing up to do and I hope she does it quickly. Nalu is a rich, complex world full of interesting peoples and imaginative creatures. I love books that contain detailed cultures and unique mythos and Secrets Kept really delivered there.

However sometimes I felt like the complexity was also its Achilles heel. Keeping the core main characters straight isn’t too difficult but there is such an abundance of characters (and places) that I had a difficult time keeping them all straight. The book would really benefit from a glossary to keep track of the people and explain some of the creatures. There’s also a map in the beginning of the book but it’s too small and missing half the references so I found it only helpful in giving me a vague sense of direction. Lastly, so much happened in the book but the story itself didn’t progress very far – it’s like The Fellowship of the Ring, lots of journeying but not much progress made yet.

Truthfully, I found the premise fascinating and the story itself gripping but there were little things that made me feel like it was published a smidge too soon. Characters that I gave up trying to figure out who they were, creatures/peoples that weren’t explained quickly enough (or at all), a lot of points of view. And lastly, a few things confused me about the specific genre Secrets Kept is trying to be. It has elements of epic or sword & sorcery fantasy but lacks other essential aspects. It also has elements of YA coming-of-age/romantic fantasy but breaks a few standard rules of the genre, etc. (e.g. Ayianna can be hard to relate to because of her age and inexperience but the book itself is too complex and mature for it to be aimed at younger YA readers. The romance felt a bit shoehorned into the last quarter of the book and is 85% aimed at the wrong guy.) It’s disappointing because I feel like those little elements are just enough to keep this really good story from being a great one.

Do you prefer traditional takes on magical creatures or imaginative spinnings on them?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I won a copy of this book in a giveaway. I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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