Book Review: Daughter of the Zel
Daughter of the Zel
Written by Phoebe Ritter
Summary (from Goodreads):
Raised on the border between Nevda and Zel, Efa has two certainties in life.
Their country’s neighbours, the warlike Zel, are to be feared.
Her touch will kill, so she can never leave the island.
When Efa is kidnapped and discovers she is half-Zel, certainty will be hard to come by.
We sit at the table in silence, but a companionable silence. This is my favourite time of day; spent with others, taking their hands in mine as we give thanks for the bounty of breakfast. Enara squeezes my gloved hand and I squeeze back smiling. Soon Mother and Father will leave for work, my sister will go to school and I will be left here alone.
I clear away the breakfast table as everyone else prepares to leave. Enara ties her scarf over her hair but loosely so it slips back to reveal strands of gold at the front.
“Gold and silver.” She would say as she tugged my hair when we were little. It is generous of her; though my hair varies from light to a dark grey, it is more like iron than silver.
Mother leaves at the same time as Father leaves with Enara, the spluttering of his boat’s petrol engine disturbing the quiet. I wave them off from the doorway.
The oven is warm enough for the bread which I fit into two tins and place inside to bake. I watch as their two boats dock on the other side of the lake and they disappear down the path into town. Enara takes off her scarf before the boat has even docked. My eyes are sharper than everyone else’s; I don’t think they realise I can see them from this far away. It suits me in my own way though.
I leave my gloves on the side, open the front door and step out into the garden. I am supposed to stay indoors as much as possible but it is a fresh spring morning and I walk the circumference of the island, knowing I will be alone for some time.
The leftover hunk of yesterday’s bread gets scattered at intervals over my path. When I get to the thinnest point of the island I sit hugging my knees, crumbs balanced on my outstretched hand. In front of me are the Kohlin Mountains, the border to Zel.
The wren finds me here, takes a crumb and flies off, only to return moments later for another.
Without the thick material of my gloves, I can feel the tapping of his beak. I wear them for the same reason I can never leave the island; I have a disease within me. I cannot touch another person without the risk of killing them. So I stay here on the island where I am not a danger to anyone, except my family. Although they are used to me and can touch things I have touched, skin to skin contact could still be fatal them. This is the reason for my gloves, my long black clothing, the reason why Father kisses the top of my covered head every morning.
First impressions: I was immediately intrigued by the summary, especially when it mentioned that Efa’s touch can kill and that she has grown up near the border of two warring countries. I immediately began to think about how difficult it would be for her to lead a normal life, and how her ‘sickness’ could be weaponised if it were discovered.
We meet Efa as she does her best to go unnoticed, cooking and cleaning for her family while staying within the boundaries of her tiny world, a small and nameless island in the middle of a lake by the border of a hostile country. Right from the start I felt for her character as she tries to convince herself that she’s satisfied with her sheltered life, even as she envies her family going about their lives, devouring every scrap of information that comes her way.
Things kick into high gear when Efa is kidnapped by people from Zel… and starts to realise that there are two sides to every story and some of the things she has been told about herself and her country’s history might not be as black and white as they appear.
I was intrigued at every step of the way and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series!
Mother stops humming and listens, she freezes.
“Hide,” Mother hisses at me, not taking her eyes off the doorway. “Hide.”
I do as she says, racing up the stairs. I have had to hide in my room before, not making a sound. This is just the same, I tell myself. Except it’s not the same. These people have not been invited. As I push the bedroom door closed behind me, I realise too late I have left my gloves next to the chopping board.
I sit on the floor, so no one can catch sight of me at the window, and listen to the noises downstairs. Heavy footsteps, a rap of knuckles on wood.
“What is this?” Mother sounds brave.
“By order of Sezel, leader of the Zel, we demand you bring us the Zel child.”
“We are Nevda people. You have no right here.”
I hear a cry from Enara.
“Please,” Mother’s voice quavers. “Please, you can see she is no Zel. There has been a mistake.”
“Search the place.”
There is a sound of splintering wood downstairs. It must be Father’s workshop, the only locked door in the house.
Two sets of heavy treads come up the stairs. I slide onto my belly and wriggle under my bed, listening to the strangers going room to room.
My heartbeat is thundering in my ears, I think it must sound so loud they will hear it. I place my hands over my mouth to stop the sound of my breath being heard. My door swings open and I can see a man’s black leather boots, scuffed and worn.
What I liked: I connected with Efa’s character and her isolation straightaway. I wanted to find out more about the history between the two countries and how it has been manipulated and retold.
Even better if: At times, the pace was quite slow and I would have liked more World-building.
How you could use it in your classroom: perfect to start a discussion about similarities, differences and how history is written by the winners.
(Thank you to Booktamins for inviting me to be part of the blog tour)
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