It picks up right where Razor's Edge left us - Eska has escaped the Pit and is finally back under the sky. (side note - the tagline for the first book SHOULD have been "No one escapes the Pit. Er, except Eska.") But her escape has cost the life (or so she thinks) of Josef, her best friend, and the life of the father of her child. Isen died in the Pit, and Eska is now pregnant. It raises the stakes - and gives Eska just the motivation she needs to keep running, to keep fighting to find a place of safety. She is joined by Tamura (as crazy and lovable as ever) and Hardt, a giant with a huge heart and brother of Isen. New characters are introduced - Imiko, a thief who turns into an annoying little sister to Eska, Silva, an intriguing character who you wonder about, yet can't help but cheer for, and Ishtar, a mercenary who is complex yet stalwart. This cast of characters rounds out the book in a way that the previous book was a bit hard-pressed to do, seeing as that the entire setting was almost entirely underground.
The Lessons Never Learned broadens the horizons of this world Hayes has created. We see two floating cities (YOU GUY. FLOATING CITIES. FLOATING. CITIES) set up by warring gods. We see an expounded magic system - suddenly the Sources aren't the only - dare I say it? - source of magic when you realize the Djinn and Rand are much more complex than Eska even knows. And suddenly, you're racing through the book wondering when you can take a breather. The pacing picks up about halfway through the book. Hayes takes the time to world-build, and remind the reader that although Eska is a piece of work, she's not the annoying kid she was in book one. I appreciate the hard choices she must make - it's no longer about just her own survival, now. It's about doing the right thing by her child. Eska grows up a good bit in this story, and I'm happy to say that I don't dislike her nearly as much as I used to. Silva brings out the best in her, as does her baby. And although Eska chooses to do what she thinks is best - give the child up - I can understand why she made the choice she did.
In typical Hayes fashion, he turns the tables and ups the stakes with this novel. Not only is the world-building borderline brilliant (FLOATING CITIES, GUYS), replete with gods who break off pieces of themselves into children, gods trapped in crowns, lots of fighting and killing, and a host of other cool, new things, but the character development takes this book up a notch. Sserakis (love the name. Have I mentioned that before?) takes on more dimensions. I mean, how can a demonshadowthing be, I don't know, likable? Well, it is. The side characters are well-fleshed out and realistic, each with their own motivations.
This series is shaping to be a favorite of mine. And really, it's cementing Hayes as a leader among indie-fantasy writers. And if this book is any indicator, I'd imagine he's going to enjoy a long, illustrious career of writing great fantasy books.