I unfortunately wasn’t clicking with this book, about 45% of the way through. I think I was, first off, expecting something a bit different? I actually kept thinking about The Hunger Games while reading this, and the other books in the trilogy, as examples of PTSD done really well. Far be it from me to judge the realism of PTSD description, but in comparison to that series, I think Roth misses the PTSD mark and jumps to what reads as moodiness.
I think this book would have benefitted from more of a set up, as well, before jumping into the action. Two reasons there: first, I never got the sense that these five main characters shared this formative adolescent experience that made them tight friends no matter the ravages of time or distance. And, to be fair, I would have also bought into a narrative where they weren’t, where once the destiny of fighting off the Dark One was over, they realized they weren’t really close friends and went their semi-separate ways. It’s not entirely clear (to me) how long they spent together–in the realm of a couple years max, I think?–but unlike the Golden Harry/Ron/Hermione Trio, who had seven years including four of relative peace, these five were brought together under duress and bonded during trauma. It’s perfectly reasonable that despite being the only ones who understand what they went through, they’re also all reminders to each other of this terrible thing they don’t want to relive. However, I didn’t get the sense of either here–neither close friends nor former friends/comrades with tension. If you told me they’d all been part of different war departments and come together for photo ops I’d have bought it.
Second, while I’m totally down for the plot conceit of “this thing happened, and now we’re midway through the series and you have to pick up the pieces because it’s more realistic than characters randomly monologuing about what happened in years prior,” there just wasn’t enough of it for me to buy into the big plot movement towards the New Threat Which Is The Old Threat Redux. A version that’s done well is my favorite Carry On, which has taken this plot device to a successful second novel and now a third (and final?). The new conflict arc started when I was pretty confused with how basic tenets of the world worked, which meant I didn’t have anything to compare to when we moved to the new tenets. (view spoiler)
I will say that the idea of there being multiple Chosen Ones who satisfy the prophecy who have differing views on their relative importances to the overall defeat is a very interesting dynamic I would have loved to explore. Amusingly, I read this on a recommendation that it was better than the navel-gazing The Magicians…while it’s definitely better on that axis, I do think it went too far in the opposite direction. It takes ages for The Magicians to saunter off on its grand quest (and lots of Quentin moping), but here I wouldn’t have minded a little more time.