Project: Catch Up On Review Backlog, review #7 out of 11
This is honestly one of the worst cases of middle book syndrome I’ve ever seen. I know the first two books haven’t been everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed myself while reading them. They were fast reads with smart characters, and while utilizing some tropes, sure, Tahir also seemed to be constructing a plot using several things I’d never seen before, and that was exciting! I couldn’t really predict where she was going with everything.
I felt like all of that completely fell apart here within the first fifty pages and didn’t really recover until the last fifty. (And this is a long book, especially for YA, clocking in at 464 pages, with not very large text.) All the characters, even Helene, were suddenly behaving like newborn baby lambs with not a brain cell in their heads (although, to be fair, Helene was by far the least incompetent). Laia wanders from situation to situation with her eyes wide open, blundering around. And Elias, he gets it the worst. Multiple characters spend a lot of time warning him against doing or not doing things, and yet somehow he’s still surprised at the end when not doing or doing those things, as advised, results in disaster.
And even if the characters weren’t suddenly incompetent, it just wasn’t fun to read. All three of them are constantly five steps behind the villains, and practically everything they do makes it worse. It’s one thing to throw obstacles in the way of your characters for the sake of narrative tension, quite another to bury them so heavily in obstacles that the story stops being fun to read, which is what happened here. It is not an entertaining reading experience to be in the heads of three characters who are always behind, and to watch as the bad guys anticipate their every move, and they never catch a break.
Quite a lot of the story also felt like it was treading water, trying to get to the ending, and to the place where she could end the series in the fourth book. She also resorted to what felt like a couple of cheap tricks, when information about a couple of characters was “revealed”. But the way it was done made go, “Are you serious?” and then roll my eyes, instead of make me feel it like it should have done. Not well executed at all. The romance between Elias and Laia is also unnecessary at this point. It adds nothing to the story. I also think that Elias’s mother, whose name I have temporarily forgotten, is a terrible villain. I’m annoyed every time she’s on the page.
The only two real saving graces here are the reveals about the villains of the story, who frankly, I started to sympathize with by the end. That part of the narrative continues to be nuanced and surprising. And then Helene, who even though she’s not her best self in this book, still continues to be a badass.
I will read the last book, because completionist, but I really hope Tahir gets her feet back under her, because I don’t know if I could handle another book like this one, when the first two were so solid.