Goodreads: The Nightsilver Promise
Series: Celestial Mechanism Cycle #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
In thirteen-year-old Paisley’s world, everyone’s lives are mapped out for them on their wrists, determined by the Celestial Mechanism. But her mother has a new theory-that people can control their own destinies. Paisley hopes this is true, because her track is running out. And when she becomes embroiled in a plot to resurrect the long-gone Great Dragons, it truly does seem like it might be the end for her.
The Nightsilver Promise by Annaliese Avery has all the trappings of a great middle grade steampunk fantasy–secret societies, lost dragons, elite warriors, a prophesied king, and a brewing war between science and magic. Despite all this, however, the book reads as stilted, the worldbuilding confused, and the characters as flat. Somehow, the ingredients do not combine to make to make a compelling read, and The Nightsilver Promise is ultimately a book I felt relieved to finish.
Exactly why the book feels so stilted is hard to define. Part of it may be the prose, but part of it may be that this book really does read a bit like a “greatest hits” list of middle-grade fantasy elements. What is a middle-grade fantasy, after all, without a clever female protagonist, a helpful apprentice, a boy destined to be king, and a street urchin who has a good heart but is currently playing for the wrong team? Then just add dragons and floating cities! Bam! Middle grade magic! The parts just do not feel integrated as whole, however–more like concepts that still need to be woven into a story.
The confusing worldbuilding does not help matters. Bits and pieces of what happened are scattered throughout. If readers are lucky (I guess), someone will sit the other characters down and give them a long speech (I mean, story) about how the world used to be in ye olden days, for background info. But there are too many shifting pieces and individuals and groups who have various loyalties. Perhaps I was the problem, and not the book, but I just could not understand how there used to be dragons and there are not anymore–except, actually there are, but only in some places (just smaller ones?). And dragons are both scoffed at and secretly loved. And the Dragon Touched are routinely dragged away to be…killed? I guess. Unless they live in the floating cities and then they can be elite warriors who guard your treasure? (Why doesn’t everyone who is Dragon Touched move? Are floating cities only for some? I do not know.) The Dark Dragon wants the Great Dragons back, and that is bad. But the Dragon Walkers are good and they also want the dragons back, except they are fighting against the Dark Dragon so maybe they want some dragons back but not the same dragons?? It’s like reading about Dante’s Italy, for goodness sake! Where people align themselves with one group that says it stands for one thing, but that thing routinely change sides because, in the end, the group is really only out for itself. Who are we rooting for and why? I have no idea.
The characters, meanwhile, add nothing to the story because they are like paper cut-outs. Feisty protagonist who is always brave and spunky and gets super powers are the end for no discernible reason. Adorable, precocious younger brother. Bumbling but sometimes useful apprentice. Elite female warrior. Street urchin who has a traumatic past and will ultimately change sides when he realizes that killing people is not really a great life choice (but for now we are supposed to feel bad he’s so conflicted about the whole murder and kidnap gig). Treacherous villain who comes out of nowhere just to keep us all on our toes. Yeah, I’ve seen this all before, and I have seen it done more effectively.
The Nightsilver Promise never really does live up to its promise. I was drawn in by the shiny cover and the promise of dragons, but the story I found is too unoriginal to captivate me. I’ll be passing on the next two books in this proposed trilogy.