Title: Secret Seller (The Famine Cycle Prequel)
Publisher/Author: J.D.L. Rosell
Price: $7.99 / 0.99 cents
In the city of Oedija, information is power, and Airene is one of the best at uncovering secrets that others would like to remain hidden. Along with her closest friends, Nomusa and Xaron, she is a Finch: a professional seller of secrets, revealing uncomfortable truths about the people in power. …. When an old friend comes to her and begs for her help in solving a murder, Airene readily agrees. But in trying to solve one murder, Airene uncovers a conspiracy that threatens all of Oedija, and which may have ties to the long-ago death of her beloved brother ….
One advantage to following some of my favorite authors is that they introduce me to new authors. Secret Seller popped up in a bundle of free books. After reading the description, I downloaded, read it — and now I have a new series to binge and a new author to follow.
First, the characters. I like Airene. She is clever, practical, and loyal. She loves her friends and her city, and is determined to do what she can to protect her fellow citizens — even if that means taking on criminals and corrupt politicians alike. I liked what little I learned about Nomusa and Xaron in this book — she is a princess exiled from her homeland, skilled in drinking, flirting, and fighting; he is an outcast, in hiding for his magical abilities — and I look forward to learning more about them in future books.
I also really like the world-building. Oedija is modeled after ancient Rome, with a few notable exceptions: gender equality and the absence of slavery. Women and men work alongside one another, from the highest levels of government to the lowest levels of the criminal underworld. And while there is definite economic disparity, there is no forced labor (or wars to acquire more such labor).
The people of Oedija are also polytheistic. Traditionally, the pantheon known as the Eidolon had been worshipped, with massive temples all over the city staffed by priests and oracles. But religion has fallen out of fashion, and lately Valenism (centered around a volcano God from the south) has begun to make in-roads among the people. Even worse, individuals blessed with magic gifts are now ostracized and persecuted; those who refuse to live in the prison-like Acadium must hide their gifts to escape notice, or risk being hunted down.
The mystery at the center of Secret Seller is engaging, and kept me flipping pages until the end. I wanted to know more about this murder, how it was committed, and how it tied in to this strange conspiracy. While the main mystery was solved, Rosell leaves enough dangling plot threads to ensure that readers will want to pick up the next book in the series.
Secret Seller was a quick and fun read. Recommended to fans of The Lotus Palace mysteries by Jeannie Lin, The Egyptian Antiquities Murder by Sara Rosett, Blood of a Gladiator by Ashley Gardner, and The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]