One hundred years before, the Great Sickness reduced the world to three cities. Now the community of Asphodel is trapped underground, waiting for the prophesied maiden of Justice to return and save them from their Fates. Sixteen-year-old Astrea is supposed to be this savior - too bad for them she isn't a believer.
Trea fights against her false destiny: she rebels against her family and friends, then refuses her arranged marriage to the charming but deceitful Lexan. Learning her life is in danger, Trea is forced to trust Lexan - until she discovers a power she never knew she had, and one he already knew he did. As betrayal closes every door, Trea decides she must submit to her stars and accept her fate. Then a handsome stranger offers her an unexpected escape and the chance to create her own destiny.
The first word that crosses my mind when I think about Justice Buried is ”innovation”. That is because the first book in the Starbright series follows the young-adult book pattern, but it also features new, innovative assets.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world which consists of three cities - Asphodel, Tartarus, Elysium - and some Tribes. Asphodel is the underground city, ruled by the First Leader and organised according to the zodiac, which dictates every citizen's future vocation and life partner. Astrea lives in Asphodel, she is an Aries and because she was born on the Spring Equinox, she must become the next First Leader and partner (marry) with Lexan, who was born on the Autumn Equinox. Nevertheless, things get really complicated because of Trea's stubbornness and daring and because of Keirna's (the current First Leader) plans concerning both Astrea's and Lexan's future. Many secrets come to the surface, which makes it even harder for Trea to handle the tasks. She receives a helping hand from Stian (the "handsome stranger") but, of course, problems don't simply vanish.
What is fascinating about this novel, to my mind, is the mix of genres. While reading the first part I was feeling like reading high-fantasy. Naturally, there are plenty elements in Justice Buried that have no place in a high-fantasy book, but maybe it was the very interesting belief in stars of the people in Asphodel that gave me this feeling of travelling not forward but back in time. Later (when some discoveries and huge events take place), I felt I was reading dystopian, and the last part of the book brought me back to the high-fantasy feel. I utterly enjoy this blend of genres, as I enjoy the use of astrology concepts, which fit perfectly with the setting, and help a lot with the world-building. I have always been interested in the zodiac signs and I have never thought that I will get to read a book involving this subject, so it was such a great surprise for me to discover the importance of the zodiac coordinates for the life course in Asphodel. This also made me reflect upon how would it be if we, people who live on Earth in the present time, lived according to this system.
The characters are various and it is hard not to pick out a favourite, or at least a character that slowly manages to win your heart. Astrea is a real Aries - dynamic, impetuous, lively, impatient. Surely, she is not my favourite character. She is too childish sometimes, irresponsible, and she gets nervous extremely quickly (this is somehow understandable; I would be frustrated too if my destiny were commanded and I were left with no power of decision). It annoys me that she pretends she doesn't
need help, nor to be saved, yet there are some occasions when she actually
needs both, liberally. Moreover, I believe that in the beginning she is way too focused on the fact that she must partner with Lexan but forgets that she will also become the First Leader, quite a responsability if you ask me. Still, I consider I would get along with her - Brenn (training teacher) certainly does, therefore I and Trea could stay in the same room without clenching our horns. Lexan, on the other hand, won irreversibly my sympathy. As a matter of fact, he is one of the few male characters that I fell in love with not just for the looks, but for the personality. At a first glance Lexan may seem just like the typical bad boy. In reality though he is a devoted, responsible Libra. I would say he is even rather sensible. However, I will talk more about him in the Lexan's Pledge review to come. One thing is sure: we two would be good friends. Other characters that caught my attention are: Aitan (Lexan's brother), and I can't wait to read Aitan's Revenge to discover him in detail, Astrea's mother, a very likeable Pisce and even Keirna (I picture her as a highly beautiful woman).
Furthermore, I need to mention that this book has a love triangle, but I assure you it is not a stereotypical one. This love triangle involves Astrea, Lexan and Stian. Although I am mad at Astrea due to the fact that she acts so rude with Lexan (as if it were his fault for her already written destiny), I tend to understand her attraction towards Stian, because he is the only one who doesn't order her to do so and so, he is the only one who advises her to live according to her own rules, not according to the stars and a prophecy. That is one of the reasons why I think Justice Buried involves some psychological aspects that readers should take into account when characterizing a character. Astrea starts, at some point, realising some things and questioning herself; she evolves - when you reach the end of the book you can see an obvious evolution of her attitudine and way of thinking and this affects the love triangle. This leads me to other innovative components: Astrea in person - she appears to be the chosen one, the only savior, but the reality is different (related to this Stian's Mistake and Lexan's Pledge provide some significant information); Lexan - as I have already mentioned, he is not the prototypical bad boy who attracts all the girls just because he's good-looking and the stars wanted him to be so charming, he is much more.
One thing I would have changed is the age. Sixteen (and seventeen) seems to me a very young age for partnering (after a ceremony where girls must choose a partner, they must date for a year and then be together forever after) and choosing a vocation. It is not a hindrance, but I feel eighteen would have made the whole situation more believable. In addition, to my view, the world-building needs improvement - I felt a lack of description when it came to settings.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot and I definitely recommend it. Justice Buried is a delightful mix of fantasy, dystopian and romance which results in an exciting journey.