I liked this book and enjoyed reading it. I basically read it in a day. I did think it was a little scattered, but that was probably inevitable as Snyder builds up her world, and Yelena isn’t confined to the castle in Ixia anymore. But that does mean that it wasn’t as purely pleasurable as that first book, which was so well constructed and centered. I think this book does manage to avoid second book syndrome.
Things I liked:
*The worldbuilding in Sitia, Yelena’s homeland, which she visits for the first time since she was kidnapped from there at the age of six. The clans and their council were interesting, and I liked the effort she made to have them hold a diversity of worldviews, sometimes even with clans or groups.
*The greying of that world that she did, having Yelena be able to appreciate the good in the governments of both Ixia and Sitia, i.e. recognizing that Ixia doesn’t have beggars, and that everyone has a job and is secure in housing, clothing, and food, while Sitia has beggars that are looked down upon by the populace, and Yelena is puzzled by them. At the same time, she realizes that the people of Sitia are free to make choices those in Ixia are not because it’s a totalitarian society.
*I liked most of the secondary characters, including the new ones. Her relationship with her parents wasn’t just a happy homecoming. There were conflicting feelings and memories that didn’t match up with reality.
What didn’t so much work for me were the conflicts Yelena had to deal with. There is a serial killing magician on the loose, and he was a pretty good villain, actually, and dealing with him forced Yelena to have to face some of her own issues. SPOILERS He rapes his victims, and when one is left alive, Yelena helps her magically, which involves facing the memory of her own torture and rape END SPOILERS. But she also has conflicts with her brother, who hates her with a passion, and Cahil, the nephew of the king that the Commander deposed, and who hates Valek (Yelena’s lover) for killing his family and depriving him of his birthright. He and Yelena are actually friends for most of the novel and you think she’s making progress getting him to think rationally and compassionately, but then he SPOILERS turns on her because he learns that Valek and she are involved romantically, and be basically becomes a rabid idiot after that END SPOILERS. Her brother was perhaps the most frustrating. I did not think that Snyder did a good enough job of making that character realize how wrong he was, or even justify why he was so full of hatred and anger. Every time he blamed his kidnapped sister for something, I wanted to punch him. It wasn’t fun to read about at all, and when they were acting forgiving with each other at the end, I didn’t buy into it emotionally.
Probably the best thing in the book though is that part of Yelena’s powers is that she can develop communication bonds with not just people, but animals as well, and her relationship with her horse, Kiki, was my favorite. FYI did you know that horses name us just like we name them? I wonder what my horse name would be.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]