Get the Sunday Star newspaper tomorrow (Jan 28) for a 20% discount coupon on ‘Everless’ at MPH bookshops nationwide.

As debut novels go, Everless by American author Sara Holland – not to be confused with Harlequin romance British writer Sarah Holland – is a stand-out piece of young adult fiction. Her fresh approach to the old adage “Time is money” is literally true and her book is riveting because of it.

(See our interview with Sara Holland here.)

In the kingdom of Sempera, alchemists have perfected the technique of syphoning years off your life by draining your blood and transmuting it and its accompanying life-force into “blood coins” that can be consumed to give the eater those additional living years from your now-shortened existence.

Our heroine is a resourceful teen named Jules Ember who, with her father, escapes from Everless, an estate run by the Gerlings, one of Sempera’s aristocratic families. But as her father has aged and they’ve fallen on hard times, he has been selling whatever is left of his time to cover their rent and taxes, hence hastening his own demise.

Unfortunately, an elderly man in frail health doesn’t have much to bargain with, so when an opportunity arises for Jules to work at the Everless estate, she takes it.

Everless by Sara HollandEverless is a fascinating rumination on time, life and wealth. It’s no secret that money makes living easier. People have always used riches to search for ways to prolong life and the appearance of youth. Having plenty of currency generally means you have more time to enjoy your existence. Conversely, those mired in poverty are always working hard to earn even the bare necessities.

In Sempera, some of the characters we meet have been around for over a century. Death does eventually come calling, but can be held back for multiple decades if you’re willing to literally ingest someone else’s bodily fluid and life-force.

The only true immortals in Everless are two mysterious figures called the Sorceress and the Alchemist. With the aid of the Sorceress, the Alchemist devised the blood magic that creates the blood coins. Having disappeared long ago, the pair has become the stuff of legend.

The only other person near their age is the Queen of Sempera. After founding a kingdom won with her sword and stewarding it to prosperity over several centuries, it looks like her time is almost up. She’s been searching for an heir, and has found one in the gregarious Lady Ina Gold. Ina is set to marry Roan Gerling, one of the sons from the Everless estate.

Holland clearly establishes the rules of the sorcery afoot in Everless, so we know there’s more to Jules than meets the eye, especially when time periodically behaves in a strange manner around her – from slowing down to a crawl or coming to a complete stop when she’s in danger.

Jules narrates her own story in Everless, so we also know of her romantic feelings for the engaged Roan and her absolute fear of his brother, Liam.

As children on the Everless estate, Jules and Roan played together. Roan was not one to draw distinctions between aristocracy and servants, while Liam had a cruel and malicious streak. He would have burned his brother in the blacksmith’s forge had Jules not intervened.

This event is what precipitated Jules and her father fleeing Everless – they feared Liam would kill Jules in retaliation for her knowing of his attempted fratricide.

Holland keeps the action going at a healthy pace. She’s skilled in the art of misdirection, so plenty of surprises abound within the pages. Not for the faint of heart, the accounts of sellers being bled and buyers gobbling up those coins are wonderfully fascinating, while producing many squeamish moments for those not particularly fond of accounts of blood-letting.

Set to be a duology, Everless wraps the first book up nicely but also introduces new questions for the final volume.

Holland tells a compelling tale and this book is worth checking out for both experienced and new readers alike.

Everless

Author: Sara Holland
Publisher: HarperTeen, young adult fantasy