Mild spoilers for this book, some more major spoilers for the first book in the series–highlight to see the latter.
It’s funny that Goodreads calls three stars “I liked it” and two stars “It was ok,” because in my mind a three star book is “It was ok.” This book is the definition of “it was ok.”
Retellings of Beauty and the Beast are numerous (Robin McKinley’s works were the ones I noted in my review of the first book in this series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely). Myth-inspired-but-then-expanded-upon books are also decently numerous (Spinning Silver being my favoritest book and therefore an unfair example of this genre). This series has gone from the first to the second but not with the amount of grounding that I think is necessary to make it work.
In this second installment, the scope of the world has expanded considerably. Harper, the protagonist from the first book, takes a back seat to Grey (who we discovered has a Secret (he’s the true heir of Emberfell, the child of an affair that the King of Emberfell had)) and Lia Mara, the eldest daughter but non-heir of the treacherous landlocked neighboring kingdom of…Sybell Syllabary? I just read this book and the name never really sunk in, but it’s something like that, where everyone has two part names.
Things that seemed very black and white–or, to be more accurate, clearly defined areas of grey (the color) are suddenly confusing. And things that were sort of amorphous are now very black and white. I don’t dislike all of the upheaval but some of it rubbed me the wrong way. In the latter camp, I enjoyed how Harper ended the last book all of 18 and unclear whether she loves Rhen. In this book, that’s just a given, as is her status as betrothed “Princess of DC” to the Prince of Emberfell. She’s no longer the main character, sure, but she gets wrapped up very quickly in whatever Rhen’s deal is in a way that seems sort of sad given how much agency she’d had in the prior novel.
And yes, whatever Rhen’s deal is. I thought at first we were going to get a neat role reversal–shock! surprise! the good guy isn’t actually good!–and there are definitely elements of that (namely, some casual to-the-bone whipping). But Grey remains fond of Rhen in a way that he never gets over, and so it’s not clear who is the real villain (other than the comically villainous Queen of Something Something). Which makes for a very interesting story! But we’re left to hear all about it through Grey’s limited first-person-POV, and he’s sort of a drip. Is he going to reluctantly take up the mantle of Emberfell? What do you think??? There are notes of more interesting moral and plot dilemmas–Noah the doctor, still stuck in fantasy land where they don’t have antibiotic cream, points out that Rhen and Grey probably have severe PTSD–but they’re not truly explored given the amount of traveling from point A to point B plot that needs to happen.
I guess now I’m invested, I’ll read the third book as well, but I’m not like super INTO this book series.