What We Devour by Linsey Miller
In a world of devastating power and a bloodthirsty monarch, it’s time for the wealthy to be devoured.
Lorena Adler has a secret—she holds the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile, inside her. But she has spent her entire life hiding from the world and her past. Lorena’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, marry her best friend, Julian, and live an unfulfilling life so long as no one uncovers her true nature.
But when the notoriously bloodthirsty and equally Vile crown prince comes to arrest Julian’s father, he immediately recognizes Lorena for what she is. So, she makes a deal—a fair trial for her betrothed’s father in exchange for her service to the crown.
The prince is desperate for her help. He’s spent years trying to repair the weakening Door that holds back the Vile…and he’s losing the battle. As Lorena learns more about the Door and the horrifying price it takes to keep it closed, she’ll have to embrace both parts of herself to survive.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Noble and the Vile may be gone, but their magic is not.
The old gods no longer walk Cynlira, but the remains of their power cling to the mortals who once triumphed over them. Those with this immortal magic are known as noblewrought or vilewrought, depending on whether they can tamper with creation or destruction.
Lorena Adler, though, is dualwrought. Bearing powers of both fallen forces, she keeps her secret held close, at least until the crown prince recognizes her for what she truly is. Swept up in a deadly game of court politics, research, and divine power, she must learn the limits and loopholes of the magic she wields.
More than that, though, Lorena must face the worst Cynlira has to offer, in the form of the Door holding back the full force of the banished Vile. Every ounce of power has a cost, and she is running out of time to determine precisely which costs she is willing to pay.
The gods are hungry, but maybe so is she.
“The world doesn’t demand we break ourselves to survive; the people refusing to help us do.”
I have to get right to the heart of this book. I know I usually wade in, but this time, it’s impossible to hold back from taking the plunge. What We Devour pulls absolutely no punches, tearing away at the structures of power and class with vicious strokes. Frankly, it’s one step shy of advising a literal game of Eat the Rich, and I loved every second of it. Partly because I’m tired of people in power using that power to remain untouchable instead of reaching out to those in need, sure, and partly because I’m petty enough to enjoy seeing intentional cruelty reflected back at its source.
Trust me, these two things can definitely coexist.
But it really is Eat the Rich. As Lorena researches the Door and works further with other wrought, including Alistair, the crown prince, she learns the full truth of the horrors she’s always known: the peerage will use anyone to increase their wealth, their standing. She’s understood this since her mother died from injuries caused by a perfectly preventable fire, but the full truth of it is laid bare now that she has access to the heart of the nation’s power. All around her, those ruling the country conflate worth with wealth or usefulness, with few qualms about sacrificing those they deem worthless.
It makes Lorena angry. It makes me angry, because it’s so damn timely. We see it all the time in our very real lives, whether it’s in jobs deemed essential during a pandemic but not essential enough to deserve better working conditions, or in the efforts to prevent unions from forming and bargaining, or even in the way casual ableism paints disabled life as less worth living.
But this book also looks toward solutions, towards revolutions, and I love it for that reason above all else. What We Devour looks at failed systems, and it sets to work burning them to the ground.
The characters, though, are incredibly important to the success of What We Devour‘s central themes.
This book wouldn’t get half as far without its stellar cast. Naturally, Lorena is my favorite. Crafty and self-reliant, she’s also compassionate even for those she has no connection to. Her determination to right the wrongs carried out through Cynlira’s history is what makes the plot of this book possible. Things do not happen to her. She makes things happen, carving out a space, a path, even if she must do it with bloody, bared teeth.
(She’s also asexual, and whenever I need an outstanding ace protagonist, I turn to Linsey Miller books. She understands what it means for a character to not experience sexual attraction but still be a whole person, just as much as she understands the cruel things people might say to someone who’s ace. I felt such an incredible swell of connection to Lorena when she details how she likes to touch and be touched, how she falls in love, but doesn’t want the sexual intimacy others might expect to follow. And you bet I saw red when another character accused her of sacrificing sexual passion for power.)
Equally important, though, are the supporting characters. Alistair Wyrslaine is a curious shade of morally gray, at once awful and pitiable and relatable. His history is a map of cruelty and trauma, but he acts from a desire to create, the very antithesis of his vilewrought powers. Meanwhile, researchers Basil, Carlow, and Creek chafe at the boundaries placed on their magic. Their ability to do good is limited by the powers that be, and they each handle it with different degrees of vitriol. Basil, my personal favorite, simply does whatever they can when they can, while Carlow refuses to accept limitations without a sneering, stubborn fight. And that’s to say nothing of Creek, enigmatic in more ways than one, and sometimes impossible to put into words.
Seeing these different characters with their different powers, origins, goals, is what makes their partnerships and conflicts so much stronger. More than that, it makes every one of Lorena’s machinations sharper and more calculated. There are so many moving parts to this book, and it delights me to no end.
What We Devour should be on your TBR, if not on your shelf as well.
Though occasionally a little heavy on sudden world-building that takes a moment to sink in, it still packs a powerful punch, ruthless to the last. I can’t get enough of its defiance in the face of tradition and power, and I’m enamored with all the wheels that turn to make it work. And though it’s a standalone, I could see myself returning to this world again and again for more. My curiosity is piqued, and it pleases me to no end that another Linsey Miller book has impressed me so.
Do yourself a favor. Read What We Devour, and while you’re at it, eat the rich. It’s good for your health.
CW: child death, gore, suicide, loss of a loved one, violence (including gun violence), self-harm (for magic purposes), graphic injury, aphobia