Confession time: I picked up this book expecting it to be bad. But, you know, one of those enjoyable bad books that people love to snark at. I WAS WRONG. IT WAS AWESOME. Despite a cover that looks like it’s going to be all about a sad witchy girl finding love in the middle of winter and ignoring the plot, it’s actually about two boys from different sides of a building war and romance isn’t anywhere to be seen. THE GOODReally! Romance is nowhere to be seen! Now, I like me a bit of romance, really I do. But I’m just so sick of it lately, and it’s quite refreshing to take a break from that for once. This probably wouldn’t be a ‘good’ point, or at least no such an excitable point, if it weren’t for the context, but there you have it.The setting! Oh, I love the setting. It strikes a nice balance between being too detailed and too vague. There’s a very narrow focus on this one little mountain area, which works wonderfully. That one little area really pops with some beautiful, vivid details, but at the same time we’re not bogged down with vast histories of an entire world. And at the same time as that, we actually do get some history for the conflict that’s central to the story, but it’s handled so well that I want to use it for a textbook. Just the right amount of light touch and non-info-dumping. (Well, until the end.)The lore was excellent, too. I loved the two religions and the different views they both had on magic.The two narrators were both unique enough to have their own voices and be distinct from each other. They didn’t work too well when they came together (I just didn’t feel the chemistry that was supposed to be there) but they were enjoyable on their own. The plot was excellent. It was a twisty-turny kind of thing that kept changing, but it had a common thread running through it, and it seemed to flow and stay going in one direction. I really don’t know how else to say it without giving away details.THE BADThe quality started to break down at the end. Like the author was in a rush to get it wrapped up. It was still good enough to carry through, but a few things got a bit stretched. For instance: at one point a particular breed of spider becomes randomly important. So they show up out of the blue, and we get a page-long description of species and a couple stories about them. That really could have been edited into the earlier parts of the book to take the awkwardness out.The climax was stretched out by unnecessary talking. The set-up and plot aspects of the ending were done well enough, and the book created a situation with some real danger and urgency. …and then everyone just wouldn’t shut up. Instead they hastily wrapped up a few plot threads and backstories through dialogue, and every one of them could have waited until the deadly monsters were dealt with.Falpain, one of the main characters, had his twin brother die just before the events of the novel. And I never really felt any emotion from him about that. It was like he didn’t care and had completely forgotten about it by the time the book started. Oh, sure, he made a few passing comments about grief, but we never saw it in his actions. Even before the distracting part of the plot arrived, he barely spared his brother a second thought. I would have swallowed that a lot easier if his brother had died years – or even A year – before. There’s no romance, but there is set-up for one, presumably to be consummated in a sequel. Unfortunately, the ‘set up’ comes entirely in the form of Ryder thinking that said Designated Love Interest is hot. Her beautiful looks are referenced in every scene she’s in. She has more character beyond that, yes, and that’s awesome. But I don’t like that the book used her appearance to paint a big neon sign of “LOVE INTEREST” over her head. If it needed to drop hints at all, it could have at least used a couple more traits to balance things out.The two races involved in this book’s setting are almost polar opposites from each other in looks. Blond vs black hair, blue eyes vs dark eyes, brown skin vs white skin. And they’re one mountain away from each other and have a near-past history of mixing freely. There’s no way those two phenotypes stayed that pure with the populations co-mingling. It was the one major part of the world-building that really threw me off.THE UGLYTHERE’S NO SEQUEL! Despite the fact that it’s pretty clearly supposed to be the first of a series and ends with our boys off on another adventure. And as far as I can tell from the author’s blog, she’s not working on one. WHAT IS THIS, HOW COULD YOU, NOOOOOOO.One of the two cultures is extremely misogynistic and violent towards women, going so far as to say that they don’t have souls. No, I don’t mind this as a narrative choice, because cultures like that did/do exist. But the book really didn’t have room to throw in ideas that heavy. If you’re going to have a setting where women get murdered for trying to do magic, don’t throw that in as a minor plot point while 99.9% of the book focuses on something else. I’m not saying that it has to be the central plot, but at least give it due weight.