Natasha Koskinen is going to survive. It doesn't matter that another Flood is coming, the ten mystical storms that precipitate its arrival like the tick of a clock. She's done it before--the orphaned daughter of a disgraced flyer who died too young made her way into the Royal Flyers, the elite aerial acrobat troupe considered the crowning pride of the city, then worked her way to becoming principle flyer. She has fought tooth and nail for a place in a city where she once had no one left. So when she learns that the flyers have lost their once-guaranteed place on the ships the crown is building to survive the Flood, she's aghast--but knows immediately that she'll do whatever it takes to get her and her flyers on one of those ships. Even if the only way is courting the enigmatic Prince Nikolai is himself.
Ella Neves is going to die. (No, don't worry--she doesn't mind.) She doesn't know exactly how--a palace guard's sword? rotting in the royal dungeon?--but she knows that once she makes it into the Flyers' troupe, she'll gain close proximity to the crown prince, make a plan, and then Nikolai is going to pay, blood for blood, for the life of the girl that once meant the world to her. No matter the cost. Anyway, there'll be no one left to mourn her.
Ella's target is Natasha's only shot at survival. But as the Flood gets closer, so do the two flyers. And as the waters rise and their city begins to fracture with political conflicts and popular resistance, Ella realizes that maybe there's more to life than revenge. And Natasha begins to understand that being dead set on survival might be preventing her from ever really living at all.
Evocative, atmospheric, and thoughtful, Girls at the Edge of the World has quickly become one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels. Bright, multifaceted characters, luminous worldbuilding, and a deft philosophical undercurrent make it a standout--at once a story of struggling, shining girls in a darkening world, a defiant queer romance, and an ode to living life to the fullest and the things that make it worth living at all. It's a fast read, the writing light but deft, and while there are familiar elements to the storyline, the plot and characters feel fresh and original, dodging clichés with unexpected twists and a distinctly witty, thoughtful narrative. It's also a piercing, contemplative look at heteropatriarchy, religion, colonialism, and how economic and class divides are displayed and exacerbated by climate change--all without being remotely preachy or contrived. I especially loved the flyers themselves, a blend of art and athletics, stardom and symbolism constantly training to bring the city together and earn their own survival; there's believable competitiveness and drive within the troupe, but also fierce loyalty and palpable caring between its members. I would highly recommend Girls at the Edge of the World to readers ages twelve and up; it's an excellent pick for book clubs as well.