First Lines: Darkness rises around me like a shield–girding me with armor, enfolding me in steel, deflecting the whispers that climb the cavern walls like goblin spiders.
The first book in his duology caught my attention because it was a sort of gender-bend fantasy retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and if that isn’t quite the description, I don’t know what is. And after really enjoying the first book’s innovation and creativity, I was very excited to read the second book.
*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*
Enebish has been betrayed over and over again. On the run across the tundra, her only allies are her best friend Serik and a group of ill-tempered shepherds who threaten to leave her at every turn. Her only hope of bringing peace to Ashkar is to bring together the Protected Territories against the might of the Zemyans and the tyrannical Askarian Sky King. But as supplies dwindle for their little group, she might start losing allies faster than she gains them. Meanwhile, Zemyan forces have stormed the Ashkarian capital and Imperial Army Commander Ghoa throws all of her power into stopping them, only to be abandoned by the warriors she leads. Held captive in a magic prison and tortured by the sorcerer Kartok, Ghoa learns his true ambitions don’t rest on just ruling the surrounding countries–he wants to take on the gods themselves. The war between Ashkar and Zemya has been raging for centuries, but it might take the two most hated people on the continent–Enebish and Ghoa–to bring it to an end before Kartok sends the sky falling down around them.
This was just as good as the first book in a lot of ways, but also a little bit…lacking in others.
The world building is still really good. I liked seeing the different cultures and groups of people introduced. I liked understanding the difference between the Ashkarians and the Zemyans, the way their philosophies and powers differ.
The characters are equally fascinating because they’re all incredibly flawed. And I don’t just mean in the “oh, I’m so clumsy” way. Enebish’s inability to trust is a legitimate fault that gets her into life-threatening trouble so many times. Ghoa’s pride is her downfall in so many ways. These are horribly flawed people who sometimes are good people and sometimes are terrible. But we still end up rooting for them. It’s actually quite fun because I don’t think I’ve ever read characters quite like these before.
I did think the plot dragged a bit, though. It meant well, but when you spend most of the story (the part told from Enebish’s POV anyway) traveling across a large country/continent, well, there’s just a lot of monotony. Even when you dress it up with occasional fights or stops in new places. It’s still a road trip. (I know I made this reference like 3-4 books ago, but Deathly Hallows again, anyone?)
I really didn’t remember much of Ghoa’s personality when I started this book, so I had a hard time slipping into her perspective. But actually, in the midst of all the traveling Enebish was doing, Ghoa’s story line helped quite a lot. She was actually in danger, trying to figure out the best way to survive and get her revenge. While I did start off the story thinking she was a truly terrible person (I did remember what she did to Enebish in the previous book), she grew on me a lot. And that’s a sign of good writing right there, when you don’t even realize the change is happening.
This is well-written, different, and just interesting. Even for a fantasy, it manages to do things I’ve never seen before and stand out in its own ways.