Completely separate from the book, but can we just talk about what a disappointment the cover is? The cover for The Gilded Ones was fire, but this? I mean, it’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near as great. This was one of my most anticipated sequels of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. Since this is the second book in a trilogy, this review will contain spoilers for the first book.
Deka has taken her place as the Nuru, the chosen one of the Gilded Ones, the four goddesses who have promised to overthrow the misogynistic priests and bring peace to Otera. But if this is a step toward peace in Otera, then why does everything feel wrong to Deka? Her divine powers set her farther and farther away from her friends, women and girls across Otera are being killed in response to the revolution she started, and the Firstborn seem outright dismissive of anyone who isn’t alaki. Even worse, a dark force is at work to oppose the goddesses, and it seems like only Deka and her friends can stop it. But nothing is as it seems, and Deka will be faced with one impossible decision after another.
“You have to start believing in yourself, Deka, in your own mind. Your own soundness. If not, others will take advantage of you, turn your uncertainty into a weapon. Learn to trust in yourself. That is one of the primary marks of a great leader. A general.”
Despite all her divine gifts, Deka’s really quite young and not very experienced as a leader. From the very first pages of the book, which starts six months after Deka freed the mothers, Deka is constantly reminded of all her failures. Women – even ones who aren’t bloodsisters – are being hurt and killed and an army is being formed by the jatu. Hemaira, the capital, remains firmly under jatu control, despite everything Deka and the alaki throw at it. Even though the battle has hardly begun, Deka is already tired and dreaming of a time when she can just be herself somewhere far away with her friends. Her memories of the torture she suffered still plague her, and her position as Nuru separates her from her friends. The chance to go on a mission with all of them, one that will hopefully reveal how to conquer Hemaira, is almost a relief. But little does Deka realize how this journey will test everything she thinks she knows.
“There is a saying, Deka: when gods dance, humanity trembles. And a lot of dancing is happening these days. Thankfully, as the Nuru, you have a say in the direction of the dance.”
There’s a lot of action in this book, but there’s also a lot of Deka’s internal growth. There’s no question she’s having a rough time with her position, whether that’s within her friend group or with the alaki or the Gilded Ones. This is a story of betrayal and trust, connections to friends and kin, and resilience. The amount of growth that Deka goes through in a relatively short period of time is rough on her (and me, the reader, as well!). There’s something about this author’s writing that just draws me in and fully immerses me in a character’s head, and it makes the joys and the heartbreaks especially poignant.
Of course, plenty of characters from the first book are included. I was absolutely delighted to see Ixa again, and to see how he grows with Deka (sometimes literally!). Britta and Deka’s friendship remains another of my favorite parts of the book, and White Hands is slowly growing on me as a character. And then there’s Keita and Deka. I think the biggest missteps in this book are in the romantic subplots. They’re very minimal and underdeveloped, even Deka’s relationship with Keita. There’s so many other things going on that the characters barely get a chance to breathe, so while there were a few sweet moments, they were few and far between. There was also a tendency to pair off everyone with what seemed like insufficient development to me. Related to all that action, the pacing felt off. I can’t decide if it was too fast or too slow, which I’m guessing is a problem in and of itself. Some plot points are a bit predictable, but as I enjoyed them anyway, I don’t feel like I can complain too much about them.
Overall, this was a very much anticipated book for me, and it definitely lived up to the first! I am beyond impatient for the last book in the trilogy!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.