Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Disease begins with a feeling, Miss Darke. It has been that way ever since the Turn – when people’s feelings first started making them ill.”
This book has well and truly rekindled my love for fantasy! A unique and impressive story about magic and mystery as well as the importance of family and friendship, one which left me in awe and wowed me until the last sentence. Angharad Walker is one talented writer! I’m so thrilled to share my review of this flawless book – if you like the sound of it, please support the author by buying yourself a copy or by sharing this review!
About the book
Payton wants to be a methic like her father, working on a cure for her mother’s sleeping fever. Ani, however, thinks the remedy for all illness might be found in the green wilderness beyond the hospital walls.
When Ani stumbles upon an imprisoned boy who turns everything he touches to gold, her world is turned upside-down. The girls find themselves outside the hospital for the first time, a dark mystery unravelling …
The way the author pulls you into a whole new world was the first thing that grabbed me in this book. The introduction felt so magical and instantly sparked my curiosity; who were the Darke sisters and what was special about that secret passageway beneath King Jude’s Hospital?! Exceptional world building and unforgettable character creation is so clear within the first chapter that I was quite taken aback. It normally takes me a while to get into a fantasy novel of any kind, but this one was something else entirely. As soon as we meet Payton and Ani, their personalities really stood out for me – they had that unbreakable bond and unconditional love that sisters have, but it was clear Payton was the more cautious and sensible of the two, with Ani being more of a rule breaker, the impulsive sister who wasn’t afraid to take a risk. I became very excited about Payton’s discovery here, the Unspoken Water, and was very intrigued to see why she needed it for an experiment. The action-packed introduction to the book succeeded in making me want to read on. It was absolutely brilliant, the description completely flawless.
The uniqueness of this book slaps you in the face with each chapter you read, and the more I began to learn about this world and the people in it, the more I loved it and the more I needed answers. King Jude’s Hospital was quite the place for a number of reasons, and learning about the strange illnesses and its history had me hooked. With a book like this, it’s so easy to lose track of time, and it felt effortless to fully immerse myself in this fantastical place. We soon learn that Payton is experimenting, and has been for a while for one main reason; to cure her mother’s water fever that has put her in an eternal sleep. It was quite a saddening thing to learn, but Payton’s efforts to save her mother were so heartwarming and commendable. The idea of people’s feelings making them ill and being the start of all disease opened up so many possibilities, and it was so clever. Payton and Ani had previously noted that they shouldn’t be ‘too happy’ for this exact reason, and it was really exciting thinking about this further. I found myself daydreaming more and more after each chapter, wondering what a life like this would be like.
“Her throat tightened – feelings of love and fear and hope swirled and threatened to become too much, so she forced herself to remember her mother when she was awake and smiling, before the fever struck.”
Meeting Kitt, a boy who had been locked away because of a very unique condition was fantastic, another character who had been created with such attention to detail. All the characters we meet in the book stand out so much, and it felt satisfying learning about how this particular character was admitted to King Jude’s, and even who locked him away… This information made me form my own opinions on characters before we’d even met them, and I loved the feeling of not knowing what the intentions of this character were so early on. There was so much to ponder, and I started making a few predictions for later on in the story! The events in the book were gripping, each small detail so effective in making me feel a certain way, or seeing something clearly in my mind. It was strange but very welcoming how certain scenes made me feel tense, or even how I felt anxious for particular characters when I wasn’t far into the book, but that just shows how extraordinary this author is. When Ani gets into a spot of bother trying to help Kitt, I couldn’t stop reading – I always needed to know what came next, and there was never a dull moment.
The rush of fear and excitement Ani feels as she plans to leave the hospital, to escape from the methic’s experimentation on her, was extremely addictive, and I felt my heart race as she tried to control the strong feelings of rage inside her. I got the feeling an incredible journey was about to be had, but also one that could potentially be dangerous, something that would test her to the limit… and I was absolutely here for it! I really felt Ani’s anger and all those emotions as she flees from her father and everything she’s known, desperate to get away, but was also shocked that her anger was stronger than we thought… These scenes were explosive and purely magical, and at this point, Ani, her safety, and her future was all that I could think about. I loved how the story is told through both Ani and Payton’s points of view, and I thought this gave us such a clear sense of just how different they are, but also how they’ve got each other’s backs, even if things don’t go exactly as planned. I couldn’t wait to experience more of Payton and Ani’s extraordinary lives, and even see whether their mother could ever be saved.
Ani’s journey alone was truly captivating. We meet new friends, experience the quirks of the city of Lundain (which, when described, sounded suspiciously like the London I knew, but with some fantastical changes which I adored) and we join Ani on her new path to finding out more about herself, the world she knew and this new exciting world she’s yet to discover. I shared her sense of freedom and her joy of being so far from King Jude’s and her father, but there’s also an unexpected danger lurking, something which would change her whole course of action. The author injects suspense in all the right places, her cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter some of the best I’ve read in a YA book. Meanwhile, Payton gets an opportunity of a lifetime when she finds herself at Queen Cleo’s hospital, the experience needed to be the methic she’s always dreamt of, to learn new methods and treatments from the very best people, and to maybe, finally, cure her mother.
Venturing outside the hospital walls felt exactly what Ani needed, and even though her journey has been far from plain sailing so far, she’d learnt an awful lot. The characters she meets are so wonderful and memorable, the things they have to say kept me gripped to the pages. I loved Estlin, a character that I could easily visualise in my mind, almost eccentric in his ways but a character you couldn’t help but love. I also really enjoyed seeing Payton start to take a few risks whilst at Queen Cleo’s hospital – sneaking out at night to visit the Feelings Library, somewhere she was forbidden to go, felt like such an Ani thing to do, but she needed to make progress on her water fever cure. I was fascinated by this scene, all those feelings and emotions bottled up on shelves which, if released, would be sure to send the world mad. It was truly phenomenal storytelling. The pure excitement and sense of adventure I got from both the sisters was off the scale, even though what they were experiencing and feeling was vastly different at times. I can’t fault any of it!
“Jenipher’s hands were dry and strong. A healer’s hands. Payton felt like she would trust them with anything. The weight of her secret was lifting already.”
The more I read, the more mystery surrounded the story and the more I was asking myself questions I craved the answers to. What exactly does Payton see when in contact with blood? What was so important about the dangerous vial in the Blood Library? What wasn’t Methic Blake telling her? I was just as excited to learn more about Estlin and why he did the things he did, and as we learn the shocking truth, a surprising friendship emerges which is written so wonderfully. The pacing of this book flows with ease, and whether we’re following Ani’s journey or Payton’s, it’s so easy and effortless to jump back into their lives in every other chapter. The time we spend with Ani is so eye-opening, but it also becomes clear just how trapped she feels; as long as people are looking for her, she can’t leave her new found home. Would she ever see Payton again, or even her mother? It was so easy to get inside the minds of these characters and really feel what they’re feeling. Something else the author has put across flawlessly!
Ani and Payton’s separate adventures lead them to learn new important information – information that they really need to share with each other, but they have no way of communicating as they’re so far apart. It made me anxious about what the sisters were yet to go through, but equally excited for how they’ve changed within themselves when they finally reunite. Payton’s experience in reading blood at Queen Cleo’s hospital absolutely fascinated me; what she saw and explored in these dream worlds of other souls completely drew me in and didn’t let me go. I was desperate to read more about the secrets she’d uncover and just how much of a good methic she’d turn out to be! Her role alongside Methic Blake became much more important over time, and she moves onto bigger and better things that could change the world and save the lives of so many sick people. It really felt like the possibilities were endless, and the author continuously blew my mind with the immense detail and world building over each chapter. As much as I didn’t want to story to end, I was so looking forward to the final chapters!
The author also manages to keep on ramping up that excitement and intrigue for the reader without stalling on the pacing and development of the story, as well as these phenomenal characters. All the elements of this story work in harmony with each other, and the lead up to what we’d experience throughout the ending genuinely could not be faulted. I needed that reunion scene with Payton and Ani, I needed both of them to succeed in their own journeys and I needed that happy ending that would result in their mother being cured. But would I get everything I wanted here?! There were darker elements weaved through the story towards the end too, and it really complemented the book well. It was thrilling seeing Ani and Estlin being consumed by nightmare vapour, finding the Observatory and being so close to Payton and Methic Blake without them even realising it. There was more danger and risk here and I really loved where things were heading!
As always, the author captures thoughts and feelings with ease, and I felt tense as I joined these characters on the final leg of an impressive and memorable journey. Their findings in the Observatory were shocking and saddening in a way, but what they did find gave them even more determination to do what was right. I felt a huge part of their mission, and the author’s words made me feel like I was right there with them. I couldn’t have asked for anything else! My opinions on certain characters began to change the more we learn and the more we understand exactly what their intentions are, and the way this was written was truly excellent. When something didn’t sit right with me, it was all I could think about, even when I wasn’t reading! I’d made a few predictions about the ending, and knew it would be interesting to see how the actual ending compared. I really hoped I’d read the twist of all twists though! The suspense was overwhelming at times, but in the best possible way.
“On the surface of things, they argued and criticized and judged each other, but here, in Ani’s blood, in the very essence of her, was proof that she loved her sister.”
The risk, the sacrifice and the commitment between characters and events in those final chapters was what really made this book what it was. I had tears in my eyes one minute and felt incredibly proud the next – the emotions the author transfers to the reader was simply outstanding! Estlin goes above and beyond anything I thought possible, and the way he’d changed from how he was portrayed at the start of the book was something I certainly didn’t expect. I loved how Payton and Ani had grown, how their confidence and determination shines through when it’s needed the most, and I loved the way their sisterly bond is written, how they’re always there for one another through thick and thin. For a YA book, it is simply perfect. What I really didn’t expect was what came next, as Payton learns so much more than she bargained for. We get a huge twist that I never saw coming, but which also made so much sense. I loved all the new information we learn about one particular character, and the way it was written seriously deserves a standing ovation!
The pace was fast and kept my eyes glued to the pages as the final chapter got closer, and as one problem was solved in such a clever way, there was just one thing left to do; to get home to King Jude’s and try and save more than one life. Payton and Ani’s adventure was so thrilling right until those last moments, and the author doesn’t slow down with the twists either; shocking discoveries are thrown at us from all directions as each piece of the puzzle comes together, and the result was incredibly satisfying. It’s difficult not to give away spoilers, so all I will say is that you really won’t see what’s coming! The ending was perfectly put together and gives the reader hope for the future of these characters. I was also thrilled to see the possibility of a sequel, although who knows what the author has in store! I closed the book with a smile on my face and so much to mull over. An excellent story that I will certainly be reading again at some point!
This book isn’t your standard YA fantasy. It goes above and beyond what you’d expect and takes your emotions along for the ride! I loved the story of Payton and Ani, two sisters who are unaware of what’s really going on behind closed doors and learn important lessons about family, friendship and life, understanding who they are, who they can trust and who cannot be trusted. It’s a story of bravery and commitment to a common cause, with twists so unexpected, twists that completely transform your thoughts, feelings and predictions all the way through. I loved every second of this book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to all my fellow readers. Angharad – thank you SO much for writing this book so I could experience its beauty first hand!
A huge thanks to the author, Angharad Walker, and Liv at Chicken House Books for my beautiful proof and finished copy of this book! You can purchase your own copy of Once Upon a Fever over on Amazon now.
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