Thoroughly committed to the anti-Gardnerian Resistance, aspiring apothecary Elloren Gardner also struggles with the question of committing to a man—and if so, which one?
As Gardneria tightens its fist around nominally independent Verpacia, Elloren’s cell weighs its options. Refuge in the Noi lands to the east beckons, but there is still work to be done in Verpax City—including mining Gardnerian Cmdr. Lukas Grey’s obvious attraction to Elloren for information. She’s attracted too, but that’s nothing compared to what she feels for Kelt and fellow Resistance member Yvan. Much happens over the course of this sequel: horrific Gardnerian mob violence; a trip to impoverished Keltania; a delegation to the all-female Amaz; and more. Despite this, the narrative arc feels flat, as Elloren accomplished much of her character growth previously. Forest piles trope on trope, encouraging readers to make associations with real-world history (Gardneria evokes Nazi Germany), but the associations are not firm (the Gardneria/Keltania relationship can be read as a cognate to modern Israel and Palestine), causing readers to constantly reassess them. Readers who loved the first book will find Forest’s consciousness of the dynamics of allyship further raised. Elloren rescued a Selkie named Marina from sexual slavery in the first book, The Black Witch (2017); here, after she facilitates a deal with the Amaz to free all similarly enslaved Selkies, Marina and the Amaz accomplish the deed with ruthless efficiency while Elloren waits. Once Marina is reunited with her skin, she is dangerously bad-ass. Those who hated the first book will find more to dislike: Repellently, the reason Selkies in sexual bondage do not fall pregnant—because love is not involved—is reminiscent of former U.S. Rep.Todd Akin's (R-Missouri) obtuse theory about rape rarely resulting in pregnancy: “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Though imperfect, the novel warns, “Power changes everything”; those intrigued by Elloren’s desire to halt “the normal cycle of history” may wonder how this might change in Volume 3. (map) (Fantasy. 14-adult)