Politics and peril unfurl slowly in this old-fashioned sequel.
Eighteen-year-old former matchmaker’s assistant Sage Fowler now serves as a royal tutor and unauthorized spy, eager to protect Demora against its neighbors: hostile Kimisara and enigmatic Casmun. Tasked with training an elite unit and uncovering rogue Kimisar soldiers, 20-something Capt. Alexander Quinn takes the army to the borderlands, Sage and 14-year-old Prince Nicholas in tow. Haunted by his brother’s death, Alex keeps Sage at a distance, fearing that his love for her endangers everyone around him. When an attack forces the Demorans into an uneasy alliance with the isolated desert-dwelling Casmuni, Sage and Alex find their diplomatic skills, military experience, and even romance tested. While white Sage is dismayed by discrimination against darker-complexioned Alex, who had an Aristelan mother, her adventures rely heavily on stereotypical fantasy racial divisions pitting the pale Northerners (who read as European) against the darker Southerners (described as living in formerly nomadic, desert-based, slightly exoticized societies). Lacking lavish fantasy elements and heavily focused on politics and war, Beaty’s (Traitor’s Kiss, 2017) tale resembles a more YA-friendly Game of Thrones and recalls classic novels such as Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series and Robin McKinley’s Blue Sword.
Plentiful action scenes, unflinching but never gratuitous violence, and a smoldering yet still-chaste romance should keep readers’ appetites whetted for the third installment. (Fantasy. 14-18)