*Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Collins for providing me with an ARC of this book. Some parts may have been changed as I did not read the final book. Please know that all of the expressed thoughts are my honest opinions.
Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, up-all-night kind of book! It has the Hunger Games-like setting and danger and the Caraval-like clues: vague and open to lots of different interpretations.
Crown of Oblivion follows Astrid, the surrogate to the rebellious Princess Renya. Astrid is an Outsider: a lower-class person without magic or citizenship. To gain citizenship for her family and healthcare for her father, Astrid must participate in the Race of Oblivion. Participants are given a drug (called Oblivion) to erase their memories and when they wake up, they only have a piece of paper with their first clue and name on it. But this race isn't a simple scavenger hunt—instead, it is a cutthroat cross-country race where participants are more likely to die than survive. As Astrid competes, she meets other competitors: some vaguely familiar, some foes, and some potential allies.
I loved this book! It drew me in from the beginning, and I couldn't put it down. Usually, I take notes for the future me writing a review, but I didn't have any as I was so engrossed in the story. Let me tell you all about it!
To start, the plot of the story captured my attention from the very beginning. I am a sucker for high-intensity situations filled with twists and turns at every corner. And Crown of Oblivion delivered! There were so many moments where I began to question who was trustworthy, and I was always surprised by everything that happened. Unlike other novels, it was hard for me to guess what she would go through next or the competitor she would meet next. I attribute this to how the book started. The book opens with the race being only a day or two away. I was thrown into the thick of things without too much background. At first, I was a bit frustrated as I didn't understand the relationships Astrid had with those around her. However, it made sense later on why Eshbaugh chose to reveal so little in the beginning: it puts readers on the same level of knowledge as Astrid, which makes it easier to step into the story. There were one or two things that I, as a reader, knew that Astrid didn't know (things that happen right before she is drugged), but that doesn't come into play during the race.
The lack of background information also helped me to connect with Astrid more. Throughout the race, bits and pieces of her memory return and readers can almost feel what she is experiencing afterwards as it is a "new" memory to Astrid and the reader. As a result, I felt more connected to Astrid. It was super creative of Eshbaugh to use Astrid's memory loss to help readers sympathize and relate with Astrid more. Eshabugh's writing was extraordinarily descriptive and engaging throughout the book. I found myself reading chapter after chapter, unable to put it down. Due to the intense competition, there never is a dull moment. It did get to be a lot in some parts, as it was fast-paced, but I prefer that to a book that has lulls in it. One of the things I enjoyed most about Eshbaugh's writing is her vibrant descriptions of all the locations Astrid races throughout the book. She races through a desert, a carnival, a forest, and the outskirts of town. The only piece of writing in the world that I didn't understand was the magic. I only got bits and pieces of how it worked and some of the limitations. Eshbaugh described how and why a person wouldn't get magic, but besides that, I didn't know too much. The concept was fascinating, and I wished I could read more of it!
I found that Eshabugh wrote her main characters very well. As I have mentioned multiple times, I was able to relate to Astrid easily. Darius, another competitor, was also written quite well. He was dynamic, and as more of Astrid's memories return, he gets more and more suspicious. There were others like Darius too—shady characters with questionable motives. Other characters were the perfect characters to hate. However, some characters weren't as well done. I felt as if they were just there as filler. One of the characters had a close relationship with Astrid, but I never felt as if I knew her. She was just an okay character; she felt a bit flat to me. But, considering that she wasn't a main character and wasn't as vital, it didn't affect the story.
In conclusion, Crown of Oblivion was a beautifully written, fast-paced, action-packed book. I adored every moment of it! My favorite aspect of the book is how Eshabugh let her readers connect to Astrid. To join the race, Astrid takes a drug that temporarily wipes all of her memories. As she races across the country, her memories begin to come back sporadically. When they do, they are new to the reader and Astrid. I found that it helped me relate more to Astrid because I didn't have any more information than Astrid did. The only reason why I gave it four stars instead of five is because aspects of the world were confusing to me and some of the characters felt flat. Overall, I would recommend it to anyone who loves reading books with lots of twists and danger!