What a spectacular letdown this book was. No, it was not terrible by any means, but considering the previous book in the series was spectacularly good, and one of my favorite YA high fantasies, this book, was a grievous dissappointment. It is the equivalent of watching Green Lantern after having seen The Dark Knight. Sure, both the Green Lantern and Batman are superheroes are in the same comic-based universe, but there's a fuck ton of a difference in quality.
Really, I feel so let down by this book. This is a clear example of a "sophomore book slump." The first book was terrific, the sequel is only slightly better than bad. I'm rounding up to a 3, because I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt, but every element (no pun intended) in this book that I loved from the first was missing from the second. The first book had a strong, brave, interesting main character. The world building was fantastic, magical without being intrusive, wonderfully creative. The romance was so light and well-developed. The love interest was such a worthy match to the main character.
Compared to the first book, this one completely falls flat. The main character (Josetta) can only be summed up as ordinary and dull, her love interest (Rafe) is an idiotic Gary Stu
“Not everyone can be a wise, practical hunti man.”
“No, but they don’t have to be half-wits.”
...and his involvement in the plot twists was just unbelievable. The magic in the world building is gone, replaced with some attempts at adapting technology to the Welce world that just detracts from the fantasy of the setting.
Summary: **spoilers for the first book, nothing for the second** Princess Josetta used to be the heir to the Welce throne, but now she spends her days in the slums, running a halfway house for the poor.
Rafe Adova is a gambler, at 27, he has no plans for life beyond tomorrow. In a country ruled by blessings, by the ones you pick and the ones you were given at birth, Rafe stands out because he has no blessings given to him, and the blessings chosen for him by friends always end up being extraordinary. He is also unusual because his ears were cut at birth, and now they are an unusual triangular shape, which he takes care to keep hidden.
Rafe and Josetta's lives collide when he saves Josetta's sister, Princess Corene, from a fight at an inn. Josetta is fascinated by this man, and Rafe will discover that his fate is more complex than anything they could ever have imagined.
The Setting: Much of the magic is gone from this book. What made the first book so wonderful was the beautiful setting of Welce, and the explanation and immersion in the Elemental Blessings system of the Welce country. It's just...gone. The elements still play a role, but it is largely diminished, and the inclusion of newfound technology just serves to confound me. In the first book, the only bit of technology was the elaymotive, or what we would call an automobile. In this book, there's been a development of technology, not very well explained, of a flying vehicle (airplane, durr) and even the development of an air conditioning system.
It may be nitpicky of me, but I felt that these technology were an unnecessary addition to the book. It largely took away from the magical, fantastic elements within it, and I ended up feeling like I got slapped into a quasi-steampunk novel instead of a fantasy.
The Plot: I felt that the plot took a large turn towards the absurd. There were an incredible amount of incidental events, too many happenstance coincidences, and Rafe's true identity came as a slap to the face because of how utterly fantastical it was. I found the main plotline to be completely unbelievable, and as much of a secondary plot it was, the intrigues within the Welce royal court was a much more enjoyable part of the book.
The Characters: It says something about the main characters in this book that the parts of the book which I most enjoyed featured the characters from the previous book: Josetta's half-sister and brother-in-law, Zoe and Darien Serlast. I loved seeing their cameos, I loved seeing their continued role within Welce politics. I loved seeing Darien's growing role as the regent for the country. I loved seeing, from a distance, his loyalty to his family, his fierce heart, his cleverness. I loved seeing Zoe as his foil, as his equal partner.
Zoe and Darien, not Josetta and Rafe, were the best things about this book.
I did not care one bit for the main characters in this book: Josetta and Rafe. Josetta is a calm, ordinary young woman. Maybe too ordinary. I do not require an extraordinary character, but neither do I want to read about someone who so dull. Really, there is nothing about Josetta that stands out besides her calmness, her rationality, her exemplary character. She is just too perfect for my enjoyment.
Maybe I was a little hasty in slapping the Gary Stu label on Rafe, but I really disliked his character. He is not offensive, he's a nice character, despite his role as an actual gambler, as well as one who gambles with his life. I still completely hated the way he was built in the book. Here's why: Rafe is just so damn special.
1. In a country where every child at birth is given 3 blessings, Rafe has none.
2. Whenever he chooses a blessing from a temple for himself, it turns up blank.
3. Whenever someone chooses a blessing for him, the blessings inevitably turn out to be extraordinary. There are five categories of blessings within Welce, the uncategorized blessings are considered extraordinary, there are only three, Rafe gets all of them. Time. Synthesis. Triumph.
4. His special destiny.
5. His deathwish and his extraodinary accomplishment: an inventor in Welce has been developing a flying machine. It is a risky invention that needs a flyer. Every single flyer has met with severe injury, or death. Rafe still wants to fly, knowing the risks, knowing he might die.
Today’s exhibition, ending with an injured pilot and a twisted carcass of metal, hadn’t done anything to change his mind. If anything, he was more excited than ever, impatient and eager to climb in the driver’s box. He had found his passion. He wanted to fly.
Rafe's TSTL decision puts him in danger more often than any plot twist within the book, and I cannot help but look down upon him for it.
The side characters were considerably more interesting, and I loved seeing their relationships with Josetta more than the relationship between her and Rafe. I loved Josetta's relationship with her sisters, her relationship with her bodyguard. I even loved the hideous complexity of her sister's relationship with her twisted mother, Queen Alys. Every single relationship in this book was more compelling than that between the main characters'.
The Romance: In contrast to the previous book, this book is considerably heavier on the romance. There was no doubt whatsoever from the first chapter that Rafe and Josetta would eventually fall in love, and their relationship took over the book. It was a believable romance, but I wish it did not take such a large role in the book, particularly when I cannot help but contrast it against the previous book, with the extremely complex romance between Zoe and Darien. Still, I do admit, it was quite sweet at times.