I know Heather Brewer likes her conflicted male characters, but it's about time we get a kick-ass girl out of her! Kaya definitely fits the bill. Bumbling and mouthy, not terribly bright or strong or brave, but still she's cored with steel. Kaya is a hero. So thank you, Auntie Heather!
Kaya is driven to protect those she loves. She loses her best friend to a terrible monster, a Graplar. When her father hunts down and kills the beast, he reveals their family's home in hiding to the Council. Kaya's parents have been flouting law simply by marrying. Their lives would be forfeit if anybody were to discover that they are both Barrons. Kaya, a Healer, receives a summons to attend training for her inherited skill so that she can contribute her talents to the war — a war that her parents do not believe in and do not want their daughter to fight in. Nevertheless, as the letter intimates that her parents will suffer if she does not appear, she sets out for the Shadow Academy.
At Shadow Academy Kaya is beset by prejudice, jealousy, and slobbery blue monsters who want to eat her. As a Healer, her life is particularly at stake because the enemy in the hundred-year-old war has figured out that without the Healer class, the warrior Barrons are vulnerable. Healers are being efficiently hunted to extinction.
But within Kaya's world Healers are second class. Not only are they seen as weak and subservient, they are not even allowed to prove otherwise. They are forbidden to learn even rudimentary self-defense. They must follow a byzantine social Protocol that sounds very much like the historic treatment of women. They are bound to fighting machine Barrons, after all. Why would they ever need to defend themselves?
This rankles Kaya to no end, as does the generally dismissive attitude of all the Skilled — those with supernatural abilities — toward the Unskilled — those whom Kaya grew up with and loves. Kaya witnesses first-hand that this vague war has collateral damages far beyond the Barrons and Healers. She later learns that the Council does not even feel it necessary to protect the Unskilled, if there is a risk of revealing the secret Skilled society to the masses.
Kaya manages to thumb her nose at rules, even going so far as to convince the shadowy combat instructor, Darius, to give her lessons in secret. But she treads a fine line. One misstep and her parents could die. Her new best friend, Maddox, will be punished with a tour of duty — a duty for which she is not trained. And her life Bound Barron and possibly boyfriend, Trayton, will feel betrayed beyond endurance. Everyone she loves has already lost so much; Kaya cannot bear to hurt them more.
Yet she will not remain defenseless. Because the walls are not keeping the monsters at bay. It's only a matter of time before she is left alone and in mortal danger.