Asper by Rhonda Smiley

254 pages

Self-published on May 4, 2017

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16-year-old sorceress, Milla, loses everything in an instant—her father, her home, her life as she knows it—over a sacred scroll that can merge Asper with Earth.

Ignited by grief, she sets out for vengeance, but discovers she’s no match for the murderous queen who seeks to rule both worlds.

Determined, Milla flees through a portal to Earth where she can master her craft without being hunted, and return for the kill. While there, she bonds with 17-year-old Parker who, despite his conniving ex-girlfriend, believes in her.

But when a spell her father cast to bury her memories begins to wane, glimpses of a past she never knew start surfacing. A past so unthinkable, it derails her future.

Should she still do what she set out to? Or risk everything—Earth, Asper, Parker—for the sake of hope?

I haven’t been this enamored of a YA fantasy for a good while.

Asper is beautifully written. Although it’s Rhonda Smiley’s debut novel, she’s done plenty of screenwriting in the past, and it shows. The book is positively cinematic, richly described, and just about impossible to put down. The author really knows how to crank up the suspense, and there were more than a few moments that left me with my heart pounding and my fingers desperately flipping the page. (Or something like that. Swiping. eReaders, you know.)

The sheer depth of this novel is what launched it to the top ranks of my list of favorites. The characters are rich with conflict and indecision, but my true favorite was the villian – or, better yet, the fact that it’s really hard to tell who the villain is. The main conflict of Asper (no spoilers, no spoilers) is so layered and well-crafted that it really did leave me pondering. Who’s in the right? What even is ‘right’? It’s fun not knowing if the hero will succeed, but not knowing if they’re even fighting the right battle? It was captivating, refreshing, and not something I find often in the YA shelves.

There is a slight snag, though it didn’t come until the very last page. The ending. The book doesn’t feel unfinished, but it does feel like there’s a chapter missing – the denouement is just a little too abrupt, a little too open for that sequel which may or may not follow. All I’m asking for is an epilogue. 😉

That quibble is nowhere near enough to dissuade me from wholeheartedly recommending Asper to any and all lovers of fantasy looking for something a bit different.