Alternative-Victorian magical intrigue, monstrous Lovecraft-ian abominations, and torrid romantic entanglements all intensify in the second of an enthralling fantasy series following A Shadow Bright and Burning (2016).
Henrietta Howel—sick of pretending to be the prophesied “savior” and panicked by her childhood love’s transformation into a shadow of the Seven Ancients—convinces her sorcerer friends to adopt the weapons of the outlawed magicians and even persuades a witch-in-hiding to employ her illegal craft. But none of Henrietta’s secrets or lies proves as devastating as those buried in her own past. Middle books are notoriously tricky, but Cluess executes every beat with panache. The overarching narrative of the sorcerers’ war advances apace, as momentary triumph unravels into complications, setbacks, betrayals, and disasters. The world remains default white and straight, but it contains hints of racial diversity among the magicians along with a gay relationship. The divisions and entanglements among the three branches of magic are further explored, and the deliciously horrific Ancients unfurl ever more grotesque maleficence. Secondary characters introduced mostly to help, thwart, or admire Henrietta begin to develop their own storylines, while Henrietta learns how heavily the price of her impulsiveness and deceit falls upon innocents. And although the romantic polygon centered on Henrietta is superficially resolved, this only ratchets up the underlying tensions.
Anyone who enjoyed the first title will adore this sequel and be on tenterhooks for the next. (Fantasy. 14-adult)