An orphan bent on revenge. A monster searching for freedom. A forbidden pact that binds their fates together.
Lyss has heard her father’s screams; smelled the iron-tang of his blood. She’s witnessed his execution.
And plotted her revenge.
Then a violent encounter traps Lyss in a blood-pact with a rarkyn from the otherworld and imbues her with the monster’s forbidden magic. A magic that will erode her sanity. To break the pact, she and the rarkyn must journey to the heart of the Empire. All that stands in their way are the mountains and the Empire’s soldiers—and each other.
But horrors await them on the road, horrors even rarkyns fear. The most terrifying monster isn’t the one Lyss travels with…
It’s the one that’s awoken inside her.
The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the initial book in the Rarkyn’s trilogy by the Aussie author Nikky Lee. This book is basically YA High Fantasy well done, with really intriguing worldbuilding, excellent characters, interesting creatures, and vivid action scenes. In contraposition with other YA books, this doesn’t feature any kind of romance, only friendship. I read it as a part of a buddy read in the Indie Accords discord, which I think also helped with the experience and the enjoyment.
The story is focused on Lyss, a young orphan girl who is seeking vengeance, but whose plans get truncated once she accidentally gets bonded by blood with a rarkyn from the Otherworld. As it is commonly believed that bonding with a rarkyn will end up draining Lyss’ sanity, they reluctantly decide to work together, going on a quest to break this bond, starting a difficult journey where they will also be persecuted by other interested parties.
We get dropped in the middle of the action, being this a story that starts with a really confusing scene; and a world that is built on its own. Small details here and there will help us to start building our own mental image of it, as we can pick up on the small expressions used in the language. Despite being the initial point of a series, Lee doesn’t waste lines on info-dumping, instead of that, she introduces details about the world and how the magic works. It is true that it can feel disorienting sometimes, but as I learned with other books, if you just trust the author, everything will click at the end.
This is a heavy character-based story, being Lyss the principal POV, but with other of the characters getting the spotlight sometimes, especially the antagonist, something that helps us to understand the motivations and the expectations behind his actions. Lyss is a really strong female character, who has started a path to vengeance after suffering a big loss; and after bonding with the rarkyn, we can see how the needed relationship develops between them. There are also flashbacks, both from Lynn and from the rarkyn which allow us to empathize with both of them. Some letters that appear in the book, despite it also introduce a confusing factor until you realize who wrote them; but it also brings more interesting information that later will drive us to a bright moment.
If there’s an aspect I didn’t like about this book, is the lack of development of the secondary characters. Outside of the antagonist, Lyss, and the rarkyn, the rest of them are really plain. Also, the bond between Lyss and the rarkyn develops extremely fast, and she acquires proficiency in using the magic really really fast; which is something you would expect would need more time.
I really enjoyed this book, and it is a great debut for Nikky Lee. There are several original elements that made me enjoy more the book; especially the creatures are nothing like something I knew before. Themes like grief and anger are treated in an excellent way, and I personally loved the run against craziness that Lyss had. Now, I can just wait until the second book of The Rarkyn’s Trilogy is released!
Nikky Lee is an award-winning author who grew up as a barefoot 90s kid in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country. She now lives in Aotearoa New Zealand with a husband, a dog, and a couch potato cat. In her free time, she writes speculative fiction, often burning the candle at both ends to explore fantastic worlds, mine asteroids, and meet wizards. She’s had over two dozen stories published in magazines, anthologies, and on radio. Her debut novel, THE RARKYN’S FAMILIAR—an epic tale of a girl bonded to a monster—was published by Parliament House Press in April 2022.