*This review contains spoilers for Book 1 in the series.*
The first book kind of eased the reader into the more disturbing stuff, but whew, this book just dropped the reader right into it. Oh, these poor boys.
If I had to describe the tone of this book in a few words, I would say intense and disturbing, but hopeful. Intense because of all the violence and tension. Disturbing because I was disturbed by the relationship between Noam and Lehrer and the things Lehrer put these teenagers through. Hopeful because, despite all the terrible things, Noam and Dara and the others were still trying to bring Lehrer down and to heal from their emotional trauma.
You had Noam, in way over his head—a 17-year-old, vulnerable (and grieving, at first), in a relationship with a dangerously manipulative and powerful 100-something-year-old sociopath, feeling like he had to weather everything alone because there was no one he could trust or talk to, knowing his life was constantly on the line. You had Dara, struggling with depression, alcoholism, an eating disorder, a whole traumatic childhood, and the outcome of the last book’s events (leaving Noam and his friends, losing his magic because he had to take the vaccine to save himself from fevermadness), only to then, on top of all that, learn that the boy he loves is in a relationship with the man he hates, caught in a trap without even realizing it.
One thing that really stood out to me, in both books, is how this author was so good at writing Lehrer and his relationship with Noam. He was such a disgusting piece of shit, but he was so good at manipulating everyone and being charming and doing sweet things, and it was so easy to forget how awful he was, to feel for him, to find him endearing. So easy to forget that he was a mass murderer, and a rapist, and a pedophile, and that he used teens to do his dirty work, corrupting and traumatizing them. And that’s why I can absolutely understand why it was so hard for Noam to not get sucked in by him sometimes, especially since Noam’s situation also included being young, being orphaned, and feeling so alone.
This book also had the same dystopian-ish world, magic, politics, and themes of trauma that the first book had, but I’m not going to re-discuss all of that. You can find that in my review of Book 1, if you want to know more. You can also find the author’s list of trigger warnings here, because there are many.
There were a few things that pushed my suspension of disbelief though, that made me think, “But why didn’t the characters [do/realize this obvious thing]?” And I know authors don’t want to spoon feed readers, but there was a lot of subtext, a lot that was only vaguely hinted at, and it left me feeling lost sometimes. There was also this one part in which Noam, Ames, Bethany, and Taye were commanding and fighting in a war, and it seemed like that part came out of nowhere and didn’t quite fit with the rest of the book.
Other than those issues though, the plot was, well, it was somewhat slow and a bit meandering, but it made sense for this book since this was more about the characters and a secretive plan to take down Lehrer, rather than a bunch of action scenes. It wrapped up the story well though.
The audiobook narration by Michael Crouch was good. He sounded natural and did a good job of reading narration in a way that matched the emotion and feel of each scene. The dialogue also had emotion that matched the scene and what was being said. He didn’t really do different voices, except for Lehrer, so I did find it hard sometimes to tell who was speaking. Female characters didn’t really sound feminine, but it wasn’t bad, and there wasn’t that much female dialogue anyway. Lehrer had what I’m assuming was a German accent, and the rest of the characters had a Southern accent, though the Southern accent seemed to kind of come and go.
Overall, I really liked the looming, lurking tension that filled this book, but also the hope and the healing. The characters and their relationships (both the sweet and the disturbing) were well-written, and this was a satisfying ending to the duology.
Fans of Book 1 in Victoria Lee's Feverwake Series. Anyone who likes gritty YA, a sci-fi take on magic, and harsh future worlds.