It’s never good when the second volume doubles down on the issues of the first.
Athan, son of a northern general, and Aurelia, a rebellious princess with ties to both the peaceful royal North and the tumultuous South, continue their ponderous journey through infatuation and war toward the showdown promised in the prologue of Dark of the West (2019). Although the war and political machinations have advanced, neither protagonist has changed much yet; 17-year-old Aurelia continues to believe that “blood” defines her and that she can find solutions, and Athan continues to decry the ambition and duplicitousness of his family and their war while also seeking their approval and rebelling only emotionally. Hathaway is interested in big ideas: the cost of war, the nature of loyalty, how to keep hope alive for a better future. Many of the complex (although not always clear) political machinations turn out to be motivated by individual revenge fantasies (everyone in power is a self-righteous hypocrite, and Athan and Aurelia aren’t much better), which makes sympathy hard to feel, and sometimes-overwrought prose (“Remains of Safire bombers still smoke, spread out like grotesque butter among the trees”) bogs down the story. Characters’ skin tones range from pale to brown.
An intriguing payoff is coming but not soon enough.(map) (Military fantasy. 13-adult)