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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Mystillion by IA Mullin is the first book in the Redsands series. Marilana is a lioness who lives as an outcast with her role as a servant and her job as a bandit hunter to keep people safe. A new lion, Marquiese, arrives at her school and she isn't sure he can be trusted or if he'll be like the other nobles looking to mistreat those of a lower status. Marquiese is immediately curious about her and as their paths cross, the two form a surprising bond. Their friendship could cost Marquiese everything when his secret is revealed and his presence in Mystillion could be discovered. Marilana must confront her past when the threat of the bandits grows and she turns to her new friends for help.
The setting is a high fantasy society with the characters facing bad situations in a caste system favoring the upper class, which allows them to freely abuse anyone below them. One of the most poignant themes of the story is an abuse of power which is constant, thanks to this system that keeps the characters in a constant state of fear as they're powerless to stop anything that happens to them. The other big threat against the characters is the bandits which are violent and sadistic men who Marilana risks everything to stop. Mullin incorporates serious topics like abuse and rape which is never explicit with details but do play a serious part in the poignancy and meaning of the plot and also in the lives of each of the characters.
IA Mullin has created stunning characters, all of which are anthropomorphic animals, to bring to life an epic world full of dangerous bandits and caste systems. Despite the seriousness of the story, Mullin weaves in some humor and lighter moments between Marilana and her friends. She carries the weight of everyone's lives and safety on her shoulders with anyone she fails to save haunting her to the point where she blames herself. Mystillion is a unique adventure with poignant themes of power, pain, healing, and friendship that are seen through the lives and struggles of various characters who face dangerous threats and pain from the past.