Well, this one was stronger than A Darker Shade of Magic, but I’m still not on board with the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” promo-ing in her bio. (But honestly, I can’t blame her, if someone said that about me I’d probably get it tattooed on my body.) Do I think she could get there? Probably. Is she there yet? Not yet based on these to books, but she wrote seven other books I’ve yet to read.
My largest critique of the books/series still stands: Is this an adult book or a young adult book? I honestly cannot tell. There’s no explicit sex, there’s not really that much violence, the language is pretty much G-rated, and the writing and plot are relatively simple and straight forward. There will be MAJOR spoilers in this review so don’t read past this if you don’t want to know.
This book picks up four months after the end of A Darker Shade of Magic. There are few-if-any flashbacks to the time between the books (with one grand exception), so we just move forward with the plot.
The entire focus of this book is the Essen Tasch or elemental magic Olympics (basically). The build up to it, who will or won’t be competing and the drama around that. We see Kell and Rhy have become bitter about their soul bond, the King and Queen have become ridiculously overprotective of Kell, but only because of the Rhy connection. Lila has made friends with pirates and has discovered her own magic. Both Kell and Lila compete in the games through questionable means. Neither wins, because they can’t for various reasons, but Lila’s captain, Alucard Emery, who Kell hates because he broke Rhy’s heart wins. Lila seems to have worked out the huge foreshadowing in the first book and the book ends with her getting ready to test it. And that’s the plot.
We do learn more about the other countries in Kell’s world (Faro and Vesk) and the people and how they use magic. However, what was supposed to be the big SHOCKER in this book is that Holland survives Black London. Not only does he survive, but he makes a deal with the entity there and returns to White London to bring it back to life. The deal starts to go south so he barters Kell’s life and body in exchange for his world.
None of this was shocking to me, not Lila potentially being what she is, not Alucard Emery being noble, not Kell being trapped, or Holland surviving. Maybe I’ve read too many books, maybe I’ve read too many complex books, but all of this was just ho-hum as I was reading. I mean it was all too neat for the book to be wrapped up by shipping a dying Holland off to the most magical place in all the worlds. I guess you could blame Kell’s naivete and youth, but really come on!
I will say I enjoyed the development of Kell and Lila’s relationship – what little development there was in this book. That’s clearly leading somewhere, but we don’t know where yet because they’re both too damn stubborn. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the games, what little Schwab gave, but they could’ve been a lot more detailed and she could’ve spent some time on the other matches and fighting styles to give more detail for this world she created.
Recommendation: Worth the read. I’m still confused as to why it’s an adult book versus a young adult book. I don’t feel that the plot moved forward all that much in 500+ pages, but Shwab’s pacing was a little better in this book than the first in the series.
Opening Line: “Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.”
Closing Line: “Whatever I am, she thought, pressing her hand to the wall, let it be enough.“ (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)