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391 pages, Hardcover
First published July 23, 2013
"The desert bears their scars. The land spread out below us is all but barren. The desert floor is baked hard. The wind can barely move it. There are no more dust storms here. The ground cracks like eggshells, the pieces moving farther apart with every month that passes without rain. The trees are dead, and the few cacti that stubbornly push their way up from the scarred earth cast gnarled shadows, crooked fingers."Did I mention I love the writing? I need to mention it again, because I absolutely LOVED the writing. It's among the best in the YA batches that I've read this year.
"It isn't right that she should live [life] in darkness. I don’t care what my baba said, I will not see my queen suffer any more than she must by virtue of her birth. I will see her eyes light up with wonder. I will see her smile as she looks at me and knows I am the one who restored her."Gem and Isra are so alike, yet so different. Not just by the nature of their appearance, although there, the difference is obviously vast. Isra is a Smooth Skin, human in appearance, yet flawed, not the ideal beauty by any means, but mainly in her own mind. Gem is a Monstrous, taller and broader than the average Yuan citizen by far, covered in orange and golden scales. They are as different as night and day, one royalty, one a monstrous outcast, not even allowed into Yuan, hunted and despised. Yet both are prisoners of their own mind, both are angry, both are full of self-doubt and loathing for what they feel are their personal weaknesses. They hate each other, having grown up believing nothing good of the other kind, believing in preconceived notions of goodness and beauty.
"'Do it...do it! Kill me!'I do so love the characters, but their romance felt much too soon, too forced, too fast. They are well in love before a third of the book is through. From literally wanting to kill each other, to falling in love in that short of a time, is incomprehensible to me. Their interactions in-between weren't conducive to romance, they bond, yes, but each have their personal purpose in using the other, and their growing feelings just felt completely obligatory overall. Their love is also overwrought with angst, and the romance is a much too prevalent part of the novel, where I felt like the plot should have been the focus.
Her words make my blood burn. 'You're so ready to die?' I demand in her language. 'My people would do anything to live. Anything.'"
"The most accomplished lover in Yuan kissed me, long and deep, and continues to do his best to seduce me, and I feel nothing but vague curiosity and more pronounced anxiety. Now a beast from the desert stands too close, and I am dizzy with wanting him. I crave his calloused hands on me."Meh.
His love, his faith in me, his belief that I can be as strong and brave as he is…The way he makes me feel and think and try harder than I’ve ever tried…All of it, all of him, is better than anything else.
I had nothing left to give. I had lost everything but my voice.
And what good is a voice when so few will listen?
Will you listen, child?
There is only one way to undo the curse: if even one Smooth Skin and one Monstrous can learn to love the other more than anything else—more than safety or prejudice, more than privilege or revenge, more even than their own selves—then the curse that division has brought upon our world will be broken and the planet made whole.
They say they feel watched here, as if the roses have eyes.
They have no idea.
The roses have more magic than anyone, even my father, understands. I am the only one who knows their secret, who knows that they are more alive than other flowers, that they see and hear more than anything else on our world.
“Do it! Kill me!”
Her words make my blood burn. “You’re so ready to die?” I demand in her language. “My people would do anything to live. Anything.”
Red for the blood that’s been spilled.
Blue for the sky I’ll never see again.
Green for her eyes.
Her eyes …
They are the last thing I see before black sweeps in, stealing all the colors, all my hope, away.
Yet they hold all the power. They hold me prisoner. Their ruler smiles as she speaks of my people’s hunger; their queen runs her hands over my face and tightens her fingers at my throat, and I must lie here and do nothing.
I smear the tears on my chest away, but some have already soaked into my skin. I can feel them, as if she has marked me, infected me with Smooth Skin weakness.
“Get out,” I growl, hatred burning in my belly.
“Not yet. I have—”
“Quiet, or you’ll wake the guards,” she hisses, her own hatred flashing in her eyes. “You don’t tell me what to do. Junjie and the other advisors tell me, but you do not. Your own father left you here. Forever. For the rest of your life, you are mine. If you’d prefer that life to be a long one, you’ll do what I say, when I say it.”
“I’ll cut you open,” I snarl through gritted teeth.
“You’ll do no such thing.” She doesn’t flinch, or move away from the bed. “If you were going to kill me, you’d have done it already.”
“I nearly did.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Do you believe these?” My claws are at her neck a second later, the tips puckering the skin at either side. Her lips part and a strangled sound gurgles in her chest, but she doesn’t move. She has realized that the slightest twitch will open her throat. “You seem curious about what will happen when you die,” I whisper. “Maybe it’s time for your curiosity to be satisfied.”
She sips air, swallowing like a three-hooved gert picking its way down the rocky slope of a canyon. I tighten my grip. The five puckers on her throat deepen. A little more pressure, and her blood will flow. I tell myself it will be justice, but I’m not thinking about justice. I’m thinking about the way she stuck her nose in the air when she told me I’d do as she says. I’m thinking that I prefer fear in her eyes to any other emotion I’ve seen.
I’m thinking I would rather be a monster than her slave.
Our only hope is to keep the mutants out. If they make it inside, the city will fall. If we’ve learned anything from the destruction of the other domed kingdoms, it should be that. The Monstrous are bigger, stronger, with poison seeping from their claws, and skin as thick and hard as armor. They can see in the dark and live on nothing but a daily ration of water and cactus fruit. They are brutal beasts determined to destroy humanity and take our cities for themselves.- Isra
This isn’t the way. No women or children. We’re not like the Smooth Skins. They are as soulless as a sandstorm. We are better. We know the power of transformation. This planet has changed us, but its magic is good magic. It would be enough to sustain us all if the Smooth Skins hadn’t twisted it to serve their unnatural purposes.
They are the murderers. Their domed cities rob the surrounding lands of vitality. Their prosperity is paid for by the slow death of the desert, and if something doesn’t change, it will lead to the extinction of my people. This raid isn’t about killing Smooth Skins; it’s about keeping them from killing any more of us.- Gem
My people are horrified by their queen. Yuan has never had a tainted ruler. I am the first, the contemptible offspring of the king’s mad second wife. Her insanity almost cost the people their lives, and now her tainted daughter sullies their throne.
I’m sure they’re all praying I will die before having children of my own. As long as I’m married, the covenant will be secure. My king will be able to remarry, and the poor noble girl forced to wed him will take on the mantle of sacrifice.
Sacrifice. Blood and bones. That’s all I am.
Yesterday, there was no doubt in my mind which one of us was the monster, but now …
I’m the one who neglected to ask his name. I’m the one who insisted he be pulled from his bed without consulting the healers to make sure he was fit to work. I’m the one who has treated him like an animal when I know that he has language and at least a certain degree of intelligence.
The thoughts make me feel sour inside. They make me wish I could have a moment alone with Gem to speak frankly. I want him to know that I understand what it’s like to be a prisoner. That I know what it’s like to walk a road I didn’t choose to a destination I fear, and that I will do my best to make his life in Yuan tolerable.
No matter how well we’ve been getting along, or how much more human Gem is than I could have dreamed a Monstrous would be, it was stupid to start confessing things to him. He’s not my friend; he’s my prisoner.
I’m filled with a sudden longing for Gem. Only with him is it safe to be the ugly thing I am. He’s the only one I can talk to, the only one who tells me anything close to the truth.
“Wait!” the girl screams. “Take it alive! Don’t kill it!”
I am not an it. I am a Desert Man. I have nineteen years. I have a son. I might have had a mate if there were no Yuan, no tunnel to dig, no scouting missions to take me away from my tribe over and over again. But Meer chose a different mate, and my son sleeps in another family’s hut. Now my son will die and be burned without ever knowing my face. Because of them!
“You seem like a clever beast,” she says, fitting the key in the lock. “I’m sure you’ll understand. Sooner or later.”
I am not a beast. I swallow the cry pushing at my lips. It would do no good to tell her. I must show her. Tomorrow I will begin, I think as she slips out the door as swiftly and silently as a tear down a Smooth Skin’s cheek.
Tomorrow, I will serve and obey. I will be on my very best behavior. I will use only Yuan words and keep my claws sheathed. But tonight I will close my eyes and pretend I am not her prisoner.
I want to go home. I want to be back with people I know, in a world I understand. I’m sick to death of this upside-down place, where I crave the touch of a girl who holds me prisoner, and every other word I speak is a lie. Half the time I can’t even tell who I’m lying to. Her or myself.
It’s pointless. Hopeless. Even if she weren’t afraid of me, at the core we’ll always be enemies. She rules a wicked, selfish city, and my tribe suffers for her people’s comfort. She’s a queen; I’m her prisoner. I resent her and she fears me, and there are times when I fear her, too. I am her monster, and she is mine.
The girl's misery and rage slipped away, and the secret sank like a stone,
inside her, until the truth was as forgotten as hope and beauty and all the other things given to the darkness.
"I should do it. I will do it.
My heart races. Faster, faster, until I hear it rushing in my ears. Faster, until sweat beads on my lip and my scales move farther apart to accomodate the heat building inside me. Faster, until my teeth ache and my brain pulses and colors swim through the night air.
Red for the blood that's been spilled.
Blue for the sky I'll never see again.
Green for her eyes."
Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.
My life grows shorter than the rose on the royal roses.
"My new body dying and my hopes for peace shattered, I gathered the last of my magic and sent a curse sweeping across the world."
"Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it."