Rift by Andrea Cremer

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Atom, 2012. ISBN 9781907411397.
(Ages: 16 and up) Rift is my first title by Andrea Cremer, and having heard all the praise for the Nightshade series, I decided to pick up this standalone prequel.
Ember Morrow is a daughter of a noble who, dissatisfied with her dad's suffocating rules and plan to marry her off, decides to join the Guard and serve the order of Conatus. Although she's spoilt with dresses and pretty things, her heart lies in learning how to fight and becoming a knight. Her childhood friend, Allistair, is also a member of the guard, and most of the book lies in her training and learning the ways of the Guard.
The perspective switches between Ember, and Cian and Eira, two sisters from the Guard who are fierce commanders in battle. The book starts off heavily with Ember's perspective, and then later switches heavily to Eira's while Ember is out of action. I found this disjointing, but the purpose behind this is soon unveiled later in the book.
Although Rift is plagued with a slow start and lengthy world building, the last third of the book speeds up with battles between magical creatures, a mysterious foe, and conflicting sides. I haven't read the Nightshade series, but judging from a chapter preview of the book, the language is more formal, descriptive and effectively conveys the early fifteenth century setting.
I was surprised to find the heavy fantasy elements within this book, which is divergent from the werewolf paranormal setting of the Nightshade series. There's not a lot of romance, as the blurb may suggest, and the focus seems to be on the setup of a huge war later on.
I didn't find this book terribly exciting, and it seems to lack the pizzazz of some sort. Ember and her love interest Barrow weren't intriguing enough to hold my interest; and Barrow tends to treat her quite coldly, and the budding romance was unconvincing. Perhaps it's the world building and formal language hindering my enjoyment, but we'll just have to see how it develops in the sequel, Rise.
Jeann Wong