August 7, 2023

Review: In the Serpent's Wake

In the Serpent's Wake In the Serpent's Wake by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Tess of the Road, which I liked well enough. This book has a lot more action, more point of view characters, and opens up the world. It deals with some heavy themes: colonialism and war prominent among them, as the story is set in this world's Archipelago where the Nimysh are exploiting and oppressing the natives. (It's pretty easy to substitute our world's Europeans for the reprehensible, patronizing Nimysh. Some of this commentary/condemnation veers towards the heavy-handed, but I often think bludgeoning people over the head with their sins is the only way to get them to wake up.)

Tess is a more sympathetic character this time around, trying to come to terms with the mistakes she make in the first book and make restitution. (Restitution is another theme running through this book.) The other characters, particularly the Countess Margarethe, have epiphanies of their own about what they are doing in this world. Marga realizes her silence in the face of her friend's terrible actions is enabling her and making things worse, and she vows to speak up and fight back. She also realizes she has to defer to and follow the lead of the people being oppressed (there's a neat scene where her white-savior complex is called out). If there is to be another book in the series--and there probably is, judging from the ending--I hope it follow Marga rather than Tess, as Marga is frankly the more interesting character.

What spoiled me with this book is the odd and uneven pacing. There's so much careful setup in the beginning and through the first two-thirds of the story that doesn't pay off in the end--the climactic battle is reported second-hand--and almost all the storylines are left dangling. It was nice to see the deeper worldbuilding, but I would rather have had a tighter and more cohesive plot.

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