Narrator: Deryn Edwards
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published on 28 August 2018
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Orphans & Foster Homes, Social Issues, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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As Opal, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and, most importantly, the ability to hunt the lords who killed their family. But Sal has to figure out who the culprits are before putting them down-which means trying to ignore the fact that Elise is being kept a virtual prisoner and that the queen may have ulterior motives. And the tales coming out of north are baffling. Talk of dark spirits, missing children, and magic abound. As Sal heads north toward their ruined homeland and the lords who destroyed everything, they learn secrets and truths that can't be ignored.
Apparently I have a lot of thoughts about this book. Maybe you should get a hot drink or something before reading this. The TL:DR version is ‘Overall this book had a great concept but was marred by poor/inconsistent writing’.
As a sequel, the timing in the book was all off. Sal kept insisting that they’d known the Left Hand and Elise for a year. But the audition for Opal only lasted 2 weeks. Then Sal took one or two months to recover from being pushed out the window straight after that. There is no way they spent a year being Opal, it just doesn’t work out. Nor did the events of the second book take 10 months. But this timeline is mentioned a couple of times and it really threw me off, because even if the events of the second book did take 10 months, which it didn’t, Sal mentioned the ‘it’s been 12 months’ thing earlier in the book, and then again much later, when time had passed (but not ten months!). Besides, Sal was still so new to being Opal, so inexperienced, and often bested, or nearly bested, by their enemies. If it had been ten months, what had they been doing this whole time that we didn’t get to see? I can’t even buy that by the end of the second book it has been 12 whole months since the Opal audition. It just doesn’t work.
Sal also insisted that Elise ‘lied’ to them when they found out Elise was used as bait to ‘screen’ potential auditioners, riding around and waiting for thieves to steal her purse and find the audition notice. Sal believed that this meant their becoming Opal wasn’t their choice. They don’t consider that choosing to travel for days, choosing the enter the competition, choosing every day to stay in it, choosing to kill other auditioners, and then choosing to accept Opal’s mask from the queen as their own decisions. I can’t even with this. It’s like Sal thinks Elise hunted them down and forced them to accept the mask. But in reality, it was completely chance that Sal robbed Elise at all, so Elise didn’t lie to them about anything. Yet, this argument seems to make perfect sense to both of them! ‘I didn’t choose to become Opal, despite clearly choosing to become Opal, because the inciting incident wasn’t genuine’ I mean really, Sal, it’s just a ridiculous argument, and you’re not right, and you have no right to be mad at Elise.
Then they had another fight because Elise said she was attracted to both men and women and Sal’s all like BUT WHAT ABOUT ME I AM NEITHER like calm down already, you’ve gone from being genderfluid to no gender at all without telling anyone, this is new ground for Elise and she doesn’t know what to label you! From that point on, Elise had to reference ‘all genders’ not just the dichotomous male and female, just in case Sal’s feelings got hurt again. HOWEVER this led to a glorious ‘will they/won’t they’ – I was kind of hoping they would break up and move on, because we don’t see much of that in YA, let alone fantasy.
However, they came to terms with each other’s flaws, and grew to accept each other, which I think was also very sweet. I liked how every character, even ones we thought were ‘good’, were flawed.
Another thing that annoyed me is that Sal kept going on about ‘I’ve killed SO MANY people’ like calm down sweetheart, you didn’t murder the entire auditioner group, in fact I’m pretty sure you only killed maybe one or two directly! (maybe more. Can’t remember.) I do remember that their kill count wasn’t very high at all, but Sal keeps going on about how they’re such a terrible person and makes it sound like they committed some kind of genocide or wiped out an army. Maybe that’s what happened in the missing ten months.
I was almost halfway through the book when I made a note that the writing and plot seemed unfocused. Dialogue sometimes seemed a bit weird, jumping from topic to topic with no segue or context. I was sometimes confused in the first half of the novel with trying to figure out what was going on, who was standing where or doing what in any given scene – I didn’t have the luxury of rewinding my audiobook, so eventually I just went with it and figured out that whatever happened, I would just accept the final solution.
I also found the second half to drag a fair bit. I actually got bored! I hadn’t been bored at all in the first novel, and the plot of this second one should have been as straightforward and exciting as the previous novel, with Sal’s end goal of ticking off each person on their kill list. However, they kept getting dragged into really boring, repetitive conversations. I’m not talking about Sal’s genderfluid conversations – I don’t have an issue with any of them. I mean other conversations about something other than plot – specifically droning on and on about Nacea. I think it bothered me because Sal so clearly saw themselves as Nacean but had no knowledge of anything Nacean, when in fact they should have been trying to think of themselves as Ignan (Ignish?), since that was the name of the nation the queen created to replace the old nations after the war.
And the very last kill, the final kill, the absolute climax of the story, the kill was downright vague – if there even was one! After getting lots of specifics on exactly how Sal killed people, I don’t even know how the final person died. The chapter ended before confirming anything. I think the author was trying to lead the audience into thinking the victim died of blood loss, smoke inhalation, or maybe crushed by a falling building, but guess what? We just don’t know. After all this time, after following Sal for two novels and rooting for them to tick each name off their kill list, I’m not even given the satisfaction of knowing what happened in the climax. I don’t know how everyone died but Sal. How did they escape a burning building no one else could escape from? Why is Sal always the ONLY survivor?
Also, Sal was suddenly able to use magic without using runes! Again, I think the author wanted to show us that Sal didn’t need magic to get their revenge (which had never been an option up until then), but there weren’t any runes anywhere near them or the weapon that turned from a hilt to a full on sword before Sal tossed it aside. Sure, it may have been an attempt to show Sal’s character growth, but it didn’t fit in with what we’d been taught about this magic system: that runes are needed to activate and control the magic.
I didn’t want to give up on this novel because I could see underneath everything it was really cool, with a really cool message on acceptance and bigotry, and a character who wanted to do bad things for noble reasons: but overall I was disappointed, you don’t get bonus points for intention if you can’t execute it, and that’s why this is getting an agonised-over 3 stars.