Antonius and the Zodiacs by Dahlia Ornelas – Review

Non-Spoiler Section

Summary from GoodReads: “Okwu, the outcast by association. Always less, and nothing more. It’s the only way Kiyoa Apuzzo is known on the Temples, and it’s all his brother’s fault. He’s about to make his debut as the BookKeeper’s apprentice, a powerful position that could rewrite his destiny. But it all goes wrong when his brother makes an unexpected visit.

Steal the Book of Sky Diamonds and I’ll make you a hero. It’s an offer Antonius ‘Naias’ Apuzzo can’t refuse, especially when there’s nothing he wants more than to be a hero. After ten years of banishment, Antonius returns home to the Temples to fulfill the Patron’s request and steals the book whose magic the Temples rely on. In his attempt, the Book’s magic is unleashed, casting the world into destruction.

Before their world is torn apart, Kiyoa and Antonius have no choice but to work together to restore the sacred Book, a quest where they’ll learn what it means to be heroes, but also brothers.”

The worldbuilding in this book is incredible. There are so many different places and people to explain, but it does it in a way that is very easy to understand, and doesn’t feel forced or awkward. Usually, with books like these, where the author has to explain everything about the world, it can feel like an overbearing infodump. However, how this book explains the world is so smart. The book begins during the Night of Stars festival, where the BookKeeper of the Book of Sky Diamonds, reads from the Book, as a sort of creation story is read. I think this is a wonderful way to do exposition. It felt incredibly natural.

One thing I love about this book is the character work. Our main character, Antonious (known from here on as “Naias”), is a joy to read. He’s brash, mischievous, emotionally turbulent, and so, so fun to watch. He’s an incredible choice for the main POV character and I loved reading about him. Naias is headstrong and brave, but above all, he is hopeful, earnest, and a survivor. Even after being cast out to the Below, all he wants is to be a Hero among the stars, to see his family again, to be accepted home.

Kiyoa, Naias’s brother is such an interesting character. I will talk more about him in the spoiler section of the review because one of my favorite things about the character is how he grows and changes as the story goes along. At first, I liked him, then I didn’t, and by the end, I was emotionally invested in him, and fond of him in a way I didn’t think I was going to near the beginning of the book.

When Naias steals the Book, and accidentally releases the Living Stories, Kiyoa is sent with Naias to fix the book. One of my favorite tropes/concepts is a broken family coming together for a common goal, and finding their love for each other again. I was excited that this seemed to be where this book was going.

Sometimes, you don’t know how much you have to say about something until you are actually trying to explain it to someone. This Father’s Day, my sister came home to celebrate with us, and while she was here, I decided to tell her about some of the work I’m doing lately, mainly, reading and reviewing this book. I thought I would just sort of explain the plot, but then I spent the next twenty minutes ranting and raving about the characters, the themes, and everything in between. I had opinions, and I needed to share them with her.

Above all, I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it. To see my initial, immediate reaction to this book, read it on my GoodReads here.

At first, one of my complaints about the book was how easy it was for Naias to capture the Zodiacs, I had thought it was too easy for him. But then, once you understand that the Zodiacs want to help him, that they want to go back into the Book, it all makes a lot more sense. Of course, they just allow themselves to get sucked into the book, that’s where they need to be.

I took notes while reading this, and at one point, these were the notes I took on Naias, “I love Naias. He’s a little gremlin boy, and I think he should be allowed to kill more monsters, actually”. Now after having finished the book, I still feel the same. Whenever Naias would do something “bad”, I couldn’t bring myself to admonish him. I think that if you banish a nine-year-old to your version of literal Hell, I think he’s allowed to lash out, kill a rhino, and steal a magic book. One thing I really enjoyed about Naias, though, was how he grew up over the course of the book. Initially, all he wants is to be a hero. By the end, he didn’t care about being a Hero anymore, he could care less so long as he could save and be with his brother. His family was more important than any personal glory he could possibly get.

Kiyoa was such a struggle for me. At first, I thought I was going to like him, but then I just couldn’t get on board with him. His POV chapters were initially filled with anger at Naias, and thoughts of how annoying Naias was. Then, when Naias would say words wrong or use completely unrelated words, Kiyoa would correct him, but in a condescending way. I thought it was especially rude, seeing as how he knew that his little brother hadn’t been in school, but the Below for ten years. I couldn’t get on his side. And then when Leonis gives Kiyoa the iska to kill Naias with, I was so surprised and disheartened to see him actually pull the knife on Naias. It’s not until Kiyoa is trapped with Cypress that I begin to like Kiyoa. He shows more of his actual feelings about his brother, how he was hiding his sadness about losing him, through anger and resentment. It felt very real, and I liked that he was becoming honest with himself, and by extension, us. I love how hard he fought for his brother, and how he tried to protect him. By the end, his POV epilogue had me crying.

I thought Sal was such an interesting character. A Patron without any magic. But the first time we meet him, he eats Beasts?? How wild and, to me, magical. There was clearly something going on with Sal, getting possessed and being at odds with the Council of Divinities. I loved his relationship with Naias. So quickly they wanted to help each other, believed in each other and fought together. I really enjoyed how they interacted with each other. How, after they kissed, Naias blushed, and was confused with himself. It was fun, and I loved how it played out. I really wished that after Naias and Sal had been separated, they had been able to reunite. I wanted to know what became of him. Did he get his magic, did he become a proper Patron? I need to know! 

The ending devastated me. I will admit I cried throughout the entire epilogue. I definitely didn’t think that Naias was going to die at the end, but it also didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. Right before the big finale fight, Naias starts talking about sacrifice, and how he’s not afraid to die. Then, he’s given the iska, which we’ve already seen. We know how devastating it is, how the purpose of its inclusion initially was to kill Naias. It’s almost poetic. But it also made me very sad. Lately, I’ve been consuming content that I know has a happy ending, everyone lives and falls in love, that sort of thing. But this book I came into completely blind, and it reminded me of how cathartic it can be to cry and really sit in your emotions.

I thought this book was absolutely wonderful. And despite my already owning a digital copy, I’ve already ordered the paperback.

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