– goodreads –
I was really not in the mood for this book, so the cards were stacked slightly against it from the start. But the hold dropped when it did and I needed it for Bingo. I haven’t had much of a choice, except to hope desperately it’ll be good enough to win me over. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Suffering from several annoying tropes, some antisemitic implications in the first half, and no real highs to make up for the lows, it was a real struggle to finish and pushed me into another reading slump.
Winter, Marcus, and Janus are back from Khandar. The king is dying, the city is on the brink of a revolution, and Duke Orlanko, the head of the secret police, is set on seizing power. And the princess, the heir to the throne, might also be host to a demon.
I’m honestly not sure where should I begin with the list of things I was annoyed by, so let’s start with the biggest one: the antisemitic undertones. Fairly early on, one of the main subplots involved a character presented as sympathetic fanning the flames of xenophobia (already a red flag) aganst a distrusted minority who are members of a different widely-disliked and historically persecuted religion that might be in league with evil forces, often bankers, and protected only by the evil duke. I read on, hoping it’d get addressed in some way and/or come to bite the character in question in the ass, but it just got sidelined and forgotten. Members of said minority never get screentime and the character encouraging hate to get back at the evil duke kept being presented sympathetically. I don’t care that the religion in question resembles catholicism far more than judaism, everything else is so blatantly leaning on antisemitic stereotypes that I’m pretty aghast at how this could be published in 2014 and, most of all, what the hell was the author thinking. Even if the parallel was intentional, it was so mishandled I have no words.
(Edit: it has been pointed out to me that they, in fact, might be intended as a parallel to the Brits, not Jews? Which I hope is correct as someone who generally wants to assume the best and was genuinely confused at the above, but…god, what an utter fucking mess the writing is in any case.)
Secondly, the scene with the Deputies General, where the three factions are the royalists (bad for…obvious reasons), the “reasonable” center, and radical students who want a republic portrayed as violent extremists. Eyes were rolled. Spare me. I’m sick and tired of “both sides are equally bad” bullshit and the narrative going out of the way to paint ordinary people who want something entirely reasonable as violent and bad, especially in this day and age.
The last and maybe the most minor thing I disliked: I really hate it when a romance subplot includes miscommunication-based drama. Especially of the kind where a character sees the person they’re in love with kissing another, so they shut down and start avoiding them. Reasonable reaction, but incredibly irritating to read, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the way it was resolved either. Though admittedly it would have probably annoyed me less if I wasn’t already disliking so many other things.
Aside from that, the rest of the book was…fine? In a rather average, unremarkable, painfully mediocre way. If I found the rest enjoyable, this might have been a “I enjoyed it, but” review. As it is, meh at best and annoying at worst, with the next book seemingly based on the standard popular misconceptions about the French revolution (blergh), I’m ditching the series.
Recommended to: dunno, those who can overlook all the flaws listed above?
Not recommended to: those looking for more military fantasy like the first book (most of the plot is much more political), if anything I mentioned above is a dealbreaker to you too
Content warning: antisemitism