My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is the sequel to 2018's Children of Blood and Bone, which made quite a splash (it's apparently been optioned for film). I went back to my review of the first book to see how I felt then, and was surprised to find I praised the very things in that book that annoyed me in this one. It's possible my tastes have changed, but it's equally possible the author's jittery, shallow writing style has worn out its welcome with me.
The biggest difference between this book and the first is that this one is a lot darker. The core characters have a couple of triumphs and far more defeats, and the book ends on a cliffhanger with some unpleasant implications, to put it mildly. Zelie has brought magic back to the kingdom of Orisha, but her troubles are far from over. The monarchy is determined to keep the throne and exterminate the rebels, deeming the maji (rightfully) as a threat to its existence, and the maji are equally determined to overthrow the queen and exact revenge for the way they were treated. These two opposing factions are set on a bloody collision course--despite the (rather paltry and ineffectual) efforts of the other two main characters, Inan and Amari--that ends with a considerable amount of death and destruction.
All of which would be fine if it wasn't so....I don't want to say poorly written, but this book feels like it needed another draft (or two). The pacing is off, the prose style is overstuffed with pretentious one-sentence paragraphs that I grew to hate, and the characterization is all over the place, most of it not good. For instance, Amari was my favorite character in the first book; she had a fine character arc. Here she wails and flails and makes one bad decision after another, and seems to be perpetually spinning her wheels. Inan is whiny, indecisive and lovesick, and when he finally makes up his mind to take action against his mother--who is a one-dimensional, over the top villain--he pulls his punches and doesn't finish the effing job, which sets things up for the bad cliffhanger ending. (And yes, finishing the job would have meant killing his mother, but there's so many bodies already in this book one more wouldn't have made much difference.) Zelie is the best written of the three, which is still not saying much; she's not a very good leader and is a terrible tactician.
All of this Debbie Downer-ism said, the setting, culture and especially the magic system is fascinating. (Although I didn't care for Zelie's group of maji elevating themselves up to god-like status at the end. Magic works best when it has limits.) I almost wish we could toss the three main characters overboard--or Inan and Amari at the very least--and start over with Zelie, Roen, and his band of mercenaries. There's a far more interesting story there than anything in this book.