Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for All or None!
Title: All or None
Author: Aurora Lee Thornton
Publication date: August 2020
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
In a world where everyone has a soulmate, uniquely powerful mage Royiora and reluctant assassin Kalo collide in the worst of ways.Royiora Daralkaen, the only mage alive able to use all five kinds of magic, has a near idyllic childhood in the country of Porescalia – before war breaks out with their antagonistic neighbors, Kloria.
Kalo Porla, a naturally magic-proof individual known as a Null, is trained to be as an assassin by the authoritarian empire known as the Domain.
When Kalo and his partner assassin are sent to kill a mage and his apprentice, it starts a journey neither man was prepared to begin.
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Warnings: harm to children, physical and psychological abuse, implied (off-page) rape, violence, mature language, minors in implied sexual situations (teenaged romance), implied sexual situations, bigotry towards fictional races, and suggestive language; transmisia and mention of misgendering
First of all, I love that this book said ‘just because you have soulmates, doesn’t mean they have to only be one person’. Thornton takes the concept of soulmates (and finding them by what they will first say to you written on your arm) and applies it to a world with different races co-existing, and with acceptance of queer identities, and has the two main characters be soulmates but meet under complicated circumstances. Roy, a gifted mage who can use all kinds of magic, was adopted by two mages at a young age, and to protect him from those who would use him, they raise him with their family and friends in the countryside. Kalo, meanwhile, is a Null (as in he can drain magic), who has been in an Academy of the Domain, run by the Trinity, and has been trained to be an assassin. The book starts with them in their childhood, and we see them grow up, and when war breaks out between Roy’s country and a neighboring one. The Trinity, meanwhile, wants Roy dead for fear of his powers one day overwhelming him and causing massive destruction. And when Kalo and Roy meet, the former does something quite terrible that has their relationship off to a rocky start.
While the world-building of this book has several races and languages and pays attention to details of magic and how the soulmate thing would work, it is not exactly delivered in the best way. Mostly, I had to piece together a lot of it, and for some bit of time, I thought Kalo belonged to the neighboring nation they were at war with. A map, or a more extensive glossary, would have probably made things simpler. Anyway, I loved the expansion of the soulmate trope in the book – which wasn’t limited to gender, or monogamy – there were quite a few examples of queer relationships that were same-sex, or had multiple partners involved, and there were also trans and non-binary individuals. The soulmate thing wasn’t also designed to be like – here, you’ll find your perfect match, and get along from day one; it is shown that it takes work and sometimes their partner can make them grow as better persons, and that there are also non-soulmate relationships that have the same kind of intimacy as it. The main romance, however, didn’t entirely convince me – I feel there was more work that could have been put into developing Kalo’s and Roy’s relationship, considering how they meet.
Kalo’s individual arc, too, was quite interesting. Both Kalo and Roy are pacifists, but Kalo has had no choice but violence since his childhood and it is something that he had long accepted that he would probably never meet his soulmate; when he meets Roy, he is still quite troubled by all the blood on his hands, and has to come to terms with it. Which brings me to another part of the book I liked – how therapy is normalized. As Roy is a healer mage, his profession includes a bit of how the medical system of the country works, and how they include counseling in his training, is specifically brought up multiple times. There is also much about healing from grief, and learning to forgive. The first half of the book might be more adventure/training themed, but the second half leans towards slice-of-life tones. Which actually brings me to one of the downsides of how the plot is structured – the biggest conflict in the book is when Kalo and Roy meet, and despite the threat of the tyranny of the Domain hanging over, it is mostly brushed aside in this book; I feel towards the end would have been a good time to set up something for the sequels or something because the threat hasn’t really gone away so it felt weird to have it but not do anything about it? And so, the ending also feels kind of abrupt.
The writing is decent, and though it did have a shaky start, it flowed better by the middle of the book. A small thing to nitpick – the author uses their titles or what they are instead of their names quite often, even when the chapter is from the character’s POV – for example, Kalo is often referred to as ‘the null’ or the ‘the assassin’ or ‘the red-skinned teen’, or Roy is referred to as a ‘mage’ etc, and so on for most of the characters. It is an unusual choice to refer to characters like that, when it feels kind of distancing from them, but also because it sometimes breaks the flow when you are dealing with multiple characters (who, BTW, also often have similar names or from the same letter) in a scene and you have to stop to remember who is a battlemage or an arcanist or whatever!
Finally, I like the themes of the book, the tropes that are used, and the queer-positive setting; the plot structure and writing could have been improved upon.
Received an advance reader copy from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour.
Aurora is a nonbinary, asexual writer with a new goal in life: to write the queerest books possible. (And yes, xe means gay, but also weird is good too.) Xe loves dragons and fantasy, and someday hopes to complete a (soft) science fiction novel as well. Currently, xe lives with xyr two cats.