Let’s dive into it – and yes, I will try to keep it brief! And I will take also into account my thoughts about the first book, The Emperor's Blades!
1. Plot and characters: I liked that we are following three points of view, three siblings (well, two brothers and a sister) of the Malkeenian imperial family which live in three different cities/islands/remote locations in and out of the Empire. There is quite a lot going on but the main trigger of the events is the murder of the Emperor, the father of the protagonists, and an associated coup d'etat (well, of the empire in this case). Each sibling has a specific story line which in this second book are really intertwined!
Among the brothers, Valyn is the one with the best action and the best story lines, especially in the first book. He is the fierce warrior trained by the best of the best to beat the best. And he gets the opportunity to show how great his skills are.
Kaden is the emperor's heir and he was sent to a remote monastery of the Shin, to study as monk. The Shin revere the Blank God yet the gods are not playing a significant part of the story (although we get an important plot twist at the end of the book that made me so excited that I could not be able to sit for a couple of hours. Yes, you guessed it, I was a particularly hyperactive annoying person!). What was important is the reference to the Csestriim, this old and almost forgotten threat to the world. But is it back? Is it the engine behind the coup d'etat? What is the connection between the wannabe usurpers and the Csestriim? Answers which are all answered during the book in a particularly convincing way! Yet, the plot complicated significantly because there is the additional threat, specifically the gods returning to walk among humans. So how is book 3 going to address this matter? Are the Csestriim there to fight against the gods? Are the gods going to fight against each other? Are the humans going to win?
Also, Kaden delivers an impressive last part – well, the author delivers it! – and I was blown away by the shadowrobes and I cannot wait to see what this is going to bring in the next book!
Finally the older sister, Adare, is the minister of finance, the highest post ever awarded to a woman, and empress to be! She is strong and fierce yet shaken by the death of her father. Her story focuses on the capital city reaction to the murder, the man who allegedly killed her father and the associated trial and the consequences of the trial. To find out that the perpetrator might actually be someone she trusts! Yet, in book two she felt more like an escamotage to introduce new characters and enable the author to tell the story of the bad guy.
Yet, and despite Adare, this book delivers the best female characters. I go as far as to say that the female characters are just much better than the men, strong, fierce, intelligent, perfect in their execution. It was so refreshing to see an author being able to provide for so much “girl-power” and the story just keeps increasing the amount of ladies you want by your side (and not against you).
Gwenna and Pyrre are my favorite by far, for significantly different reasons.
Gwenna is pretty much the chuckle source for my entertainment; yet, she develops in book 2 to become a confident and selfless woman. I cannot wait to read more about her!
Pyrre is this fierce and cold-blooded killer really extremely skilled at her job and her interaction with the Kettral is just the best throughout the book! I am actually wondering if her beef with Long Fist and I am starting to think her god, Ananshael is the one guiding her against Long Fist (aka Meshkent – yes, when Triste was revealed partially possessed by Ciena, I was totally freaking out!).
Annick - she is badass. She is in the list primarily for being a diverse character: She is gay and this is the first time I find one in a fantasy book and I loved it! We should have a bit more of that, quite frankly. So I wanted to praise the choice of the author to actually encompass such an important part of our society, the LGBTQ+ community!
Nira – she was the best new character in the whole book and I really enjoyed her constant flow of insults, so colorful and interesting. I really was amused by her abilities to turn any situation in an insult against Adare. She is also (almost) immortal and a leach, and not an “ordinary” leach at that, she is the last queen of the leach. I really enjoyed her story line and I thought she was portrayed in the best possible way. Despite bitching around almost all day! And, just to make it a bit more clear, leach means magic! Yes, magic and I was so enthusiast about this particular aspect as well!
And I could continue for a very long time to describe what amazing characters populate this series. And a better way for you to experience this world is actually to read it!
2. The world. This book just blew me away. Book 1 focuses mostly around presenting the characters, following their development and their achievements. It is a solid characters building book. Book 2 simply explodes and, having the benefit of book 1 and a solid ground to build upon, the world just gets infinitely more complicated, more characters, threats, locations, story, cultural habits, religious cults are introduced in such a great way that not only is believable but makes you want more! In essence, I cannot wait to read more in book 3!
3. The Kettral! The elite military branch is something we find very often but I loved the spin here. A big bird and a team associated with it, each with a specialization: rider, sniper, etc (I don't want to give away much, although I already gave a lot of details before). Very interesting really! And, did I mention the big bird? Just awesome, especially if you consider the Flea and his team. I truly had a blast in the rescue mission of the Flea and his interaction with Gwenna. Another perfect moment in the story!
4. Magic! I referred to it when I described Nira. Some humans have special abilities and they are the leach, abominations really among humans. In fact, they are hunted by the other humans so they have pretty much two possible destinies: Either die or become Kettral (or, as a third option that populates this book, hide and use the abilities in secret). But are the really an abomination? Actually, you cannot have more different characters here: There is Talal, the gentlest soul of all and I really care infinitely for him! On the other side of the spectrum, there is Banedon, a complete freak and a psychopath. With an extremely powerful well to draw his magic.
In essence, this is just a great book and I could continue for hours to talk about it. It is really priceless and I cannot stop recommending it! I also noticed that BookTube got its radar on this series and I hope there is going to be an absolute pray of the series itself!
Let me finish with my review with one major question: Rampuri Tan, is he alive? I truly hope so! I almost hope he return in charge of the Shin, a completely maddened group of warriors-monks who scare the hell out of anyone they believe non-human. Really scary people.