Hello Humans! How are we all doing? Coping? Me too.
On the bright side, there’s plenty of reading to be done and I’m actually writing the reviews to boot!
I read the first book in this duology, Mask of Shadows, back in January of 2019 and really enjoyed it, particularly because this was one of the first fantasy books I read that had a gender fluid main character.
So, yes, it had been a while since I read book one but I figured it’d probably be fine to dive right into book two without recapping.
BECAUSE I AM A FOOL.
Join me in my thoughts on this sequel!
As one of the Queen’s elite assassins, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and permission to hunt down the lords who killed their family. But Sal still has to figure out who the culprits are. They must enlist the help of some old friends and enemies while ignoring a growing distaste for the queen and that the charming Elise is being held prisoner by her father.
But there’s something terribly wrong in the north. Talk of the return of shadows, missing children, and magic abounds. As Sal takes out the people responsible for their ruined homeland, Sal learns secrets and truths that can’t be forgotten.
One of the reasons this book sat on my TBR for quite so long as it did is probably because I had my suspicions that it wasn’t going to hit the spot in the same way that the first book did. Mask of Shadows has a really clear structure around which the plot is built – the auditions – whereas Ruin of Stars has nothing on which to hang the events of the story. I think that lack of structure made this book feel weaker, I found it incredibly difficult to get into the story and to work out what the main driver of the story was. That’s probably something that would be a bit different if you had a smaller gap between the two books – but it does weaken the book overall.
One thing I did appreciate is that, more so than Mask of Shadows did, this book brings in other queer characters. One of the big things I like to keep in mind where books include LGBTQIA+ characters is if they have queer friends. It’s the least realistic thing in the world to have a lone queer character – we find each other! I thought this book had put a little more thought into Sal’s identity and the way that their society functioned to silence or hide other queer identities. It still feels a little like Miller doesn’t quite commit to exploring this in the book – but perhaps that’s because there isn’t the space to do so within a story with quite a bit going on. That being said, I felt a similar way reading Miller’s latest book Belle Revolte, that the ideas being mentioned could have gone so much further, so there is that somewhat tentative feeling throughout her writing.
That being said, I do think Sal is a great main character, I like how throughout this book they find out more about themself through both having external people tell them things, as well as through introspection. So often in YA, character development comes with a big external moment – ‘I am your father!’ – and this book does have some of those, but it also looks at learning about yourself as a slower, more gradual process, and how sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back. Comparing Sal at the start of the duology to the end it’s not hard to see the effects of the story on them.
If you’re thinking about reading this I think my biggest suggestion (as it almost always is) is to head back and read the first book before you dive in, to ensure a smoother transition into book two, there are a lot of proper nouns to handle and if you suck at names like I do I think it’ll help to go back!
My rating: 3/5 stars
I bought this book myself, all opinions are my own.
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What say you? What other non-binary/gender non-conforming protagonists are out there? Give me your recommendations in the comments below!