Time for another delayed review (though only slightly this time.) I’d actually put off reading this book until I got the other delayed reviews finished, but I still didn’t end up getting it done on time. Still, here we are. ( I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, so please forgive any lack in detail–I’d prefer that to getting something wrong.)
First a little bit of background: Here is a link to my review of the first book in this series, The Emperor’s Blades. To make a long story (and review) short, I greatly enjoyed it, despite a couple of small gripes (see the previous review for those) I had no complaints at all. It hurt to not read this book as soon as my copy arrived. But here we are, and here we go.
As opposed to the first book, where our three protagonists were for the most part stationary (in terms of location), there’s a lot more traveling around this time. At the start everyone is where they finished off last time; Kaden and Valyn are both in the mountains near the now gutted and destroyed (more or less) monastery, while Adare starts things off still in the capital city as she plots her next move. Soon enough, however, all three siblings are one the move, and all separate once again as Kaden and Vvalyn make their own journeys toward the capital that Adare is escaping from. Without getting into too much detail (I know I put a spoiler warning, but I still try to avoid spoilers unnecessary for the review itself), we get to see a bunch more of the of the world and as a result it, its history and the plot itself all benefit from the expansion. Of particular interest are the gateways (I’m probably forgetting the in-book term for them) that can be used to travel rapidly across the world, and the really creepy hidden monastery that Kaden and his group travel to. The latter in particular I did not see coming, but I’ll discuss it more later.
We follow the same three protagonists as last time, and once again they all have very different but equally satisfying journeys that are intertwined in such a way that the plot flows well, but at times you’re raging at the characters and their lack of communication with each other (it’s not entirely their fault, however.)
We’ll start with Adare, as she got the short shrift in The Emperor’s Blades, with the least screentime and the least to do (and was 1 of my 2 complaints.) Fortunately, this book does not have that problem, as Adare is much more prominent, and actively taking a bigger role in things. We left off with her last time just after she’d discovered that her father’s murderer was in fact Ran Il Tornja, her chief adviser, military strategist, and lover. Recognizing the danger she’s in and the near impossibility of being able to safely expose him and seize control, she flees the palace to, almost ironically, reform the religious fighting force that she had dismantled in the previous book when she’d been led to believe its leader had been the assassin that had killed her father, as she conceals herself among religious pilgrims. Here she meets Nira and her brother (who’s name I can’t recall), two very old people that we later learn have played a major part in the history of the world and may well have a part to play in what is to come. Nira is also delightfully foul-mouthed, something that I don;t always like but it worked perfectly here. As things progress, and the larger plot unfolds, Adare surprisingly finds herself forced to work with Il Tornja as she learns more about her father’s assassination, and near the book’s end comes into conflict with her brother Valyn. We see her taken out of her element as she struggles to do what she can for her family and kingdom.
Valyn starts off where we left him, having finally met up with Kaden, only for the two brothers to separate again as Kaden takes his own path while Valyn sets off with his Kettral wing for the capital, still pursued by other Kettral wings as he technically did go AWOL and at least some of the Kettral was in league with the conspiracy. Suffice to say, their trip back home is far from simple, and as seems to be his lot, Valyn and his friends suffer the most, and find themselves and their allegiances constantly in flux as they’re pursued and captured by fellow Kettral and an invading barbarian army. Development-wise, he has a little bit less going on this time, but he does definitely grow as a leader and makes several tough decisions throughout the book. I am also happy that Ha Lin’s death back in book 1 hasn’t been forgotten by either the author or the characters. Valyn’s side character buddies continue to make his sections enjoyable, as his wingmates have great interactions and the mercenary Pyrre who is with them is so fun to read, and Valyn and his people have the best actions scenes.
Kaden’s plotline here is probably the most interesting as far as the overarching plot goes, and the most unpredictable. He chooses to travel with his mentor Rampuri Tan and his new companion/possible love interest Triste, who we soon learn is much more than the simple girl she seems to be at first glance. When they travel to the Ishien monks via the mystical gateways that he and Tan can use due to their training, and Triste can use for reasons she doesn’t understand. In most books, a trip to the mysterious, powerful and dangerous monks would have gone in a predictable fashion; the hero would learn from them, and maybe make new allies for the coming war. Not so here, as the Ishien themselves become villains in their own right, and hold our heroes hostage. Eventually they have to fight their way out, and take a Csestriim prisoner named Kiel with them, who is able to give yet more background into the mysterious Cestriim, the gods, and the greater plot–especially when we learn a key secret about Ran Il Tornja. KAden’s journey here is very much that of a person who’s had good but specialized training learning that as useful as it is, there is much that he doesn’t know, and that there is more at stake than he had realized.
I realize that I sort of already covered the plot as I discussed the characters (think the same thing happened last time), but I can definitely say that things expand nicely, serving well as the middle book in the trilogy (at least I believe the series is planned as a trilogy), without noticeably suffering the drawbacks that often plague seconds books. Through the different viewpoints we learn more and more about both the geopolitical and mystical situations. And by the end of the book, the already established problems of lack of communication as Valyn and Adare find themselves at odds, and Kaden returns home to discover that the situation is more complex than he realized. The stakes are rising ever higher, and the heroes have some serious work ahead of them.
This will be a short section as well, as there is only a little bit more we learn more about how leach magic works, and with our introduction to Nira we learn more about what this world’s magic is truly capable of, in addition to the background on the supernatural beings of this world. We also learn more about the Csestriim, magical creatures themselves, in addition to finally meeting one, and some more mysterious magic is introduced/elaborated on, specifically Valyn’s gifts from the slarn king and Triste’s unique nature.
Again, apologies for the late review and the lack of the book in front of me as I write this. (It’s currently in my room across the Atlantic Ocean, and I won’t be back in the States for over 2 more weeks, so I figured I’d get this done now.) This upciming year I should have a better handle on my time, and this won’t be a problem anymore.
But as for the book itself, it was a very fun and immersive read, and I highly recommend you check it out (and The Emperor’s Blades, if for some reason you’re reading this and haven’t already read the first book in this series.) As for me, I eagerly await book 3!
Until next time, keep on reading, and writing (which is what I’ve been doing quite a bit of lately)!