I quite enjoyed the first novel in the Ember Quartet, and was very interested to see where Tahir would take it. Tahir adds a third character perspective, Helene, in this novel, and I enjoyed her parts of the novel most since they were focused on the politics of the Empire with the new emperor in play. Additionally, she has the most interesting of the character issues since Helene is struggling between her loyalty to her best friend, her family and the Empire and her oath. Laia and Elias can trust each other while Helene is the second hand of a man she hates. She loves her family but while they are allies, they are also something she needs to protect.
When the previous novel ended, Elias and Laia were escaping the city to free her brother from prison. Their perspectives chronicle their journey to the prison. While there are some interesting interactions with other characters, I would have preferred for them to get to the prison more quickly, and have more long term progress but Tahir needed time to get Helene and the other forces into place. Additionally, I enjoyed some of the other pieces she introduced with the afterlife. However, Keenan, the rebel asset, also returns and I could have done without the obvious love triangle set up between Laia, Elias and Keenan. After finding confidence in her own abilities in the previous novel, Laia regresses a bit here after some of her choices have some unintended consequences.
I enjoyed the first novel quite a bit and Tahir does build on the political and magical world she introduced in the previous novel a bit, so I enjoyed those parts. I just felt like the road trip part of it was a bit dragged out, but that may also be because after Laia talking about freeing her brother all of the first novel, I didn’t actually want it to take the entirety of the second novel as well, so this was definitely a set up novel for the rest of the series.