Overview (No Spoilers):
Last Memoria was an entertainingly dark read that keeps the reader guessing right up until the end regarding the puzzle that comprises the past. Everything ended up fitting together so well that I was left wondering why I hadn’t seen at least one particular twist ahead of time. The clues had been obvious, but obfuscated through misdirection that was easy to latch on to as the reader. While one unanticipated connection stands out above the rest, this pattern repeats frequently, managing to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.
The extent to which convenient coincidences are relied on for explanations and interactions grows rather tiresome and seems to unfairly shrink the world Shaw has created after having spent significant effort emphasizing the amount of time it takes to travel between various destinations. Really, there are quite a few of these happenstance interactions that carry through to key plot points that are the crux to the entire story.
Last Memoria was a really fast read that left me wanting to learn more about this literary world. While several of the key characters had detailed, but deliberately hole-filled backstories, the bulk of the cast filled stereotypical roles with minimal depth assigned. I would have liked to have learned more about what makes Havric so loyal and such a good tracker or what made the King tick.
Overall, Shaw has created an intriguing literary world in Last Memoria that will keep the reader flying through its pages, but the heavy use of coincidences and a desire for more detail stand out as a whole. Sarah’s Rating: 7.5/10
“Everybody lies, cheats, and steals.”
And Sarilla would know, as the king’s pet Memoria, someone with the ability to search through a person’s memories, even taking them back into her own mind to become part of her collection. The problem is that this process wreaks havoc on the previous owner, often resulting in madness and death. Consequently, Memori are feared as monsters by the rest of the population. Tired of being forced to break into the memories of those the king suspects of treason, Sarilla goes on the run, trying to escape from who and what she is, as well as the heavy burden she carries. The rest of the novel details Sarilla’s journey into freedom, and the reckoning she must undergo in order to come to terms with her past actions.
I found the premise of Memori and their abilities truly unique and fascinating. I was enchanted by the details Shaw adds about her creation: the inky swirls of memories that betrayed a Memoria’s identity, the contentious history between Memori and the people of Valrora, and the secret hideout of the Memori who had escaped from Dranta. Not only are the mechanics interesting, but the consequences and moral dilemmas that arise from playing around with a person’s memory add a greater depth to the novel… as one character states, “Do you think you can still be guilty if you no longer remember your crime?”
Now, I’m the type of reader who can be pulled through a few plot holes and past some flat characters if the story is engaging enough to keep me focused on the main ride. For the most part, Last Memoria was this kind of read for me: an intriguing premise, a love story with ample tension, and a quick enough pace to keep me flying by some of the niggling details that I didn’t quite buy into. Yes, there were shifts in character actions that seemed to come out of the blue, plot events that were a bit too convenient, and a love triangle that gets stale at times. But I found myself really enjoying the tale, regularly surprised and delighted by a new revelation, a switch of setting, and the novel concept in general of Memori and their capabilities. The second half of the novel switches perspectives from Sarilla to a second character, a move that wasn’t just necessary for the plot machinations, it also brings a new dynamic for the reader. Unfortunately, I found myself constantly frustrated with Sarilla’s negative state of mind; I understand why she has this outlook, but it was a bit of a bummer to be stuck in her head for the first half of the book.
Overall, Shaw is a clever writer who knows how to pace her novel, avoiding massive info dumps in favor of plot-centered revelations, many of which change the trajectory of the novel in new and interesting ways. Readers will enjoy the original concept of the story and be sucked in by the twists and turns of the tale. Stephanie’s Rating: 8/10
As a memoria, Sarilla can scan and steal your innermost thoughts with just a touch, or she can just as easily supply memories, whether they were yours to begin with or not. Given these life-altering abilities, the people of Valrora tend to be fearful of and hostile toward memori, especially since multiple generations of kings have used her and her family as personal weapons to uncover threats to the crown. Viewing these acts as invasions of privacy, Sarilla despises her gift, considering it a curse instead. To make matters worse, these stolen moments come at a cost, physically leaving her with distinctive, dark features and mentally making it increasingly more difficult to hold on to the present, as echoes of the stolen memories randomly flood her mind. In a twist of fate, she escapes the king’s clutches and finds herself racing across the country to reunite with the rest of her family. The Gods seem to have other plans though, as she encounters numerous obstacles along the way. What lengths is she willing to go to in order to reach her family? To keep her newfound freedom? And who can she trust? Because if she’s learned anything from scouring others’ memories, it’s that ‘everybody lies.’
Rachel Emma Shaw published Last Memoria, the first book in the Memoria duology, in May 2020. Based on the contents of this novel, I’m glad that she was able to steal time (and probably inspiration) away from her work as a neuroscientist to pursue storytelling. In this dark fantasy, Shaw excels at establishing distinctly different characters and then shifting their demeanors on a dime as the story goes on. Adding to its somber tone, this is a story where hurt people frequently lash out and hurt others in an effort to lessen their own pain, thereby constantly escalating the conflict. In retrospect, there are some holes regarding personal and world histories that I’d missed originally because I’d been so captivated by the thoughts and feelings of the two main characters whose viewpoints the reader is privy to.
Overall, I found Sarilla’s point of view at the start of the tale to be compelling and engaging. Switching the perspective at the halfway mark, Shaw cleverly mixes first-person and third-person narratives in this body of work. While the second viewpoint allows for further plot development in an interesting way, it started to lose its appeal after repeatedly flip-flopping the character’s emotions (although these shifts make sense in the context of the story). Rounding out the cast, secondary characters are used to fill many diverse roles (e.g., hero, antihero, villain); however, the heavy focus on the emotional states of the main characters comes at the expense of depth for the rest. And so, the main characters’ responses to tragedy moved me to a greater extent than the events themselves since I hadn’t formed the same attachment to those in minor roles.
In the same way that characters’ behaviors unexpectedly evolve, Shaw has a habit of putting the goal just within reach and then quashing it, forcing the storyline to rapidly pivot in a new direction. This results in many plot twists that steadily add to the intrigue of this read, culminating in a final reveal that still leaves many unknowns in its aftermath. On the journey to get there, these characters must traverse a handful of unique and treacherous settings, with the majority of the time spent on the outskirts of a forest, concerned about the dangers lurking within. Hopefully, the next installment will still feature and expand on these interesting locations, especially the underground city. On that note, now’s the time to crack open Last Memoria for a tale of love, loss, and, of course, lies – so be sure to check it out before you ‘forget’! Jennie’s Rating: 7.5/10
The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffins Average Rating: 7.5/10
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Being currently pregnant, I enjoyed Shaw’s addition of the memori being able to communicate with their babies in the womb and as they’re little. I’ve thought of that tidbit quite often as I feel Baby O kicking and moving over the past week or so.
- In the Deadwood forest, the memori adjusted the tree growth such that there is ‘a canopy so thick that you could barely see a twinkle of sunlight through the leaves above, even in the depths of winter.’ Did the memori spend any time outside during the day when they lived there? Did the memori ever design bodysuits and sunglasses to protect themselves from the sun?
- As a memoria, if you recall a memory, are you creating a duplicate of it each time you think of it because the new memory would be of you thinking about it?
- ‘Either her control was slipping or the memories were too numerous to restrain anymore. She had known it would happen one day, just like it had to her mother.’ Is this a constraint of being half memori? Is this an issue with holding both human and memori memories (compatibility)? If the stolen memories are prone to ‘drive her to madness’, is this a problem for full-blooded memori as well? Or is this an incompatibility/storage issue for Sarilla and her family? Did the curator ever run out of space keeping the inherita in a single person?
- Why didn’t the curator (was it Sarilla’s grandmother at this point?) want to leave Drata? What are the odds that the old king would just happen to kidnap the memori’s most treasured person? Did King Lucien specifically seek her out? What secrets does the inherita contain?
- ‘It was a mercy when my father killed her.’ Since her mother had passed on the inherita to Sarilla before dying, was that not enough to return her sanity? I know she wouldn’t wish that on her kids, but if Rysen and Sarilla had taken some of the extra memories, would their mother have been able to find herself again?
- How did Sarilla’s father find the memori? How did Sarilla and Rysen get away from the palace? Why wasn’t Lya at the palace when Rysen and Sarilla escaped? Had she been there when their father returned from Frioca?
- ‘He wanted her to attack the soldiers.’ How does Rysen expect her to be able to stop all of them? How is he able to stop all of the soldiers in the tavern? You have to touch them to do anything…
- While heading to Arvendon to warn her family about the impending attack by Renford, Sarilla wonders whether she’ll run into Falon since ‘it was where he had been heading, but that had been half a year ago.’ Why did it take him half a year to decide to get his memories back? Is that how long it took him to recover? Wouldn’t his father have known that the assassination attempt failed when Falon returned, especially without his memories? Was he unprepared for Renford’s invasion?
- Why did Falon’s mother drop him off with his father? Does Falon actually know who his mother is? Where she is?
- Why wasn’t Sarilla just more honest and open with Cedral, Falon, and Havric from the start about her capabilities and why she was making certain choices? She really played into their stereotypes and made everything harder on herself.
- Was there really no indication in Falon’s memories from the time his father suggested assassination to Cedral’s departure at the Claw and Paw tavern that would have told Sarilla that Falon and Cedral were romantically linked? Especially due to the thoughts and emotions experienced during that final confrontation? Would Cedral have eventually told Falon of his betrayal?
- Finding out that Falon had never actually loved Sarilla was a twist I didn’t see coming and heartbreaking in one devastating sequence.
- Havric was easily my favorite character of Last Memoria. How did Falon generate such loyalty from Havric? Why does King Renford give Havric so much freedom? He is not known for his mercy.
- ‘She’s not the heartless monster I thought she was.’ I just didn’t quite buy the about-face of Cedral on his opinion of Sarilla after she gifts him some memories.
- Have the memori been calling the blackvine nightly to search for the inherita for the past 100 years? Do they have to feed it memories each time? As Sarilla and Falon make their way to Oresa, it still seems strange that the blackvine wouldn’t touch Sarilla because ‘it is not our custom to force memori to reveal what is sacrosanct.’ Would the blackvine have affected her?
- Should Sarilla’s removal of a few months of memories really have been enough for Falon to withstand complete destruction by the blackvine? And through his connection to the blackvine, the memori often make Falon forget about his concerns. To what end? Because there’s nothing to worry about? To keep him compliant? To keep him from figuring out if they’re up to something?
- The blackvine was a great twist and I enjoyed how Shaw gave away its secrets gradually, transforming how the reader views it, from nature gone wild to the memori’s methodical search tool…. But, really, no one before Sarilla and Falon noticed that it ONLY attacked at night??
- I enjoyed the twist of Sarilla killing the blackvine with memories of sunlight, but why does the memory of sunlight have the same destructive effect as actual sunlight on the memori and the blackvine?
- It seemed like early on that Shaw was making the case that the memori (and by extension, all perceived monsters) are not really evil, it’s just the stereotype projected upon them by those who misunderstand their nature. However, with the manipulations of Kira and the true purpose of the blackvine, it feels like Shaw has cast the memori as one of the central villains of the novel, without the redemption hinted at early on. What would Kira have done had she found out Sarilla still had the inherita?
- As the last in the royal line, is Sarilla in charge now? Did the Queen of Evaleon take over in the confusion? Did all of the memori perish in the ambush? What’s happened to all of the soldiers and individuals who hadn’t died yet once the blackvine is destroyed? Are they blank slates now? Where will Havric take Sarilla? Will Sarilla come to regret her freedom? Will Sarilla find a way to make peace with who she is? With Falon surviving with the inherita, how will the next novel proceed?
Brazier: a pan for holding burning coals
Kip: sleep, nap
Stripling: a young person
Waggle: to reel, sway, or move from side to side; wag
[…] (No Spoilers): I was first introduced to Shaw’s writing when her novel, Last Memoria, reached the finals of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Having enjoyed the unique […]