*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
There’s something about this series that is so unique and decadent and interesting. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. This review is basically a love letter to this book, so if you just want the short version, here it is:
MUCH UNIQUE! SO MAGIC! VERY TEA! WOW!
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the long version:
I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to continue this series. I enjoyed the first one, but it didn’t blow me away, and my TBR list already has too many books. I don’t say this to insult the first book though; I say it to convince anyone else who’s on the fence that you absolutely should read this one. I am so glad I gave it a chance because not only was this one of the best books I’ve read this year, it was one of the most unique books I’ve read ever! It had the same great world and characters as the first, but somehow I sank into it and appreciated it even more this time.
The realm these characters live in is so complex and different. There are different sections run by different families. There are duels. There’s magic. There’s debauchery. There are murderous pixies and ghostly wolves. There’s a merciless queen ruling over all of it. You have to read the books to truly understand how well it all comes together. The author has clearly put a lot of thought into the Realm, how it works, how it affects the society and the characters and their lives. It’s strange, entertaining, and, at times, comically absurd, but it never feels silly. It all fits. It all works. And this time, we even got to learn more about the Realm, how it started, and how it got to be this way.
Then there’s Vaun, who is so incredibly well-written. He’s over a hundred years old, but he still appears young (as does everyone), and he’s spent his life being rich and spoiled and drugged, basically able to do what he wants since he’s a prince, not caring about much of anything, only having recently sobered and realized there are some messed up things going on. The way he’s written, he actually feels like a hundred-something-year-old who’s lived that kind of life. I just find him really interesting, his voice is as unique as he is, and I love the growth he’s had so far. I love both his superficial, tea-drinking, party-loving side and his deep, serious, compassionate side.
And Vaun isn’t the only great character. Fay, Vaun’s sister, is fierce as hell. She’s confident and powerful. She can make people cower with just a look, but they also adore her. In this book, she fought for what she felt was right and showed that she too has caring side. Samuel Sinol, Vaun’s valet, is one of my favorites as well. He’s so good at what he does, he’s clearly intelligent and observant and probably knows everything that’s going on even before Vaun does, he puts up with all of Vaun’s crap, he goes above and beyond in his loyalty to the point that it’s admirable and shows a hidden strength, he cracks me up sometimes, and there’s just something about him that I love. Grayc Illan is another character who fights for what she believes is right and has a lot of grit. I also quite like Addom and Hammish and Havik Lor, even though their parts were smaller. They seem like mostly good people, and Addom definitely gets some points for his hilariously outlandish suggestion of what weapons to use in the duel. Plus, all of these characters proved to be strong in that they showed compassion and they kept fighting even when it was tough.
I compared the first book to a soap opera because of all the drugs and partying and backstabbing and murder and general debauchery. But this one had more gravity and intensity to it while still also being a little bit ridiculous and fun.
I also felt that this book was more focused. The plot had a more tangible goal, and the unnecessary POVs were cut. (In other words, the issues I had with Book 1 were gone.)
Another thing I loved was the writing. It just fit with the world and the society and the characters perfectly. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like every single thing about this book was so completely immersed in the world, including the writing itself, and I LOVED that.
This is completely unnecessary to mention, but I also love the character names. They fit the world so perfectly too. Vaun. Fay. Evan Kadem. AviSariel. Xavian Ren. Saven Bom. Grayc Illan. Evelet. Addom. Hammish. Havik Lor. Trust me, they may seem like “trying too hard” names out of context, but they are perfect.
Another great thing (I know this review is super long but there are so many things to love about this book JUST LET ME ENJOY MY EXCITEMENT GOSH) is that most (if not all) of the characters seem to be bi or pansexual. Romance is not the focus, and there have been no explicit scenes, but there are lots of M/M and F/F relationships. Also, they seem to have a lot of open relationships and lots of lovers over time, since they live so long. But despite it not being the focus, I feel like this book showed us more real, loving relationships than the first one did, and I really liked those sweet, intimate moments.
Speaking of which, the emotional moments that were in the book were raw and complicated and believable. Some were negative, some were positive, some moments were between family, some were between lovers, some were between enemies, some were about growth within a single character, but all of them were well-written.
Oh gosh, I just realized I haven’t even mentioned the magic yet! The first book was full of drugged tea and murderous pixies, but this time the magic took a surprising turn that fit with the more intense mood. I don’t wanna spoil it, but I kind wanna say it. *SPOILER* DRAGON MAGIC! *END SPOILER*
Anyway, I’ve just written a thousand words and still I feel like I haven’t managed to do this book justice. Seriously, it blew me away. I absolutely loved the unique world, the complex emotions, the interesting characters, the touch of absurd humor, and the immersive writing, and I’m already looking forward to jumping back into this series!
Fans of Book 1 in Cheryl Low's Crowns & Ash series. Anyone who likes fantasy with some darkness, unique worlds, interesting characters, magic, intrigue, beautiful writing, and just a touch of absurdity.
More Books in the Series:
Welcome to the Realm, where magic is your drug, your poison, and your only hope.
An illness is spreading through the city, marking the sick in mysterious letters scrawled across their skin. What is first thought to be madness reveals itself to be an awakening as residents rediscover themselves, their pasts, and their long-forgotten magic… things the Queen wants to remain buried. Things she will sacrifice her own children to suppress.
Mercy has never been a staple of the Realm. Treachery, blood, and magic steeps the city as the rebel leader, Red, seeks to topple the Tower, Princess Fay eyes her mother’s throne, and Prince Vaun must decide whether to submit to his mother’s terrible demand.