So where do I start with this book? Let me start off with the negative as to end on a positive note.
I absolutely hated, and I mean hated the love triangle (I mean, can you even call it that?) with Zelie, Inan, and Roen in this book. It was painfully obvious to me that Roen's sole purpose in this book was to serve as Zelie's love interest, to help her get over her lackluster relationship with Inan. And their insta-love was just so - well, irritating? Like, Zelie has known this man for a total of - what- a few days by the beginning of the book and she's already in love with him? I mean, the guy isn't even THERE for most of the book. He pops in and out when it's convenient for the plot. As for Zelie's feelings for him - ok, the attraction is one thing, but the insta-love? Really? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, this is YA after all. and after a few months of not reading any YA I was really jarred by the insta-romance and the blatant use of the Jerk With a Heart of Gold Trope, as exemplified by the following quotes ( and just other irritating quotes from Zelie)":
"After Baba died, I didn't think anyone would care about me like that again." (page 310)
Really, Zelie? How about Mama Agba, Tzain and Amari, who have been supporting you and have actually STAYED BY YOUR SIDE this whole time??
"'You're just a mercenary.' I shake my head. 'Just a monster for hire. At least Inan was a king. At least he believed in something'" (page 312) I.. ok. Okay, Zelie.
"There's no more hiding now. The monster is out in the open" (page 369) Girl, what?? He's a MERCENARY for f's sake. Did you think he played with puppies and kittens for a living??
"He looks up at me and I see the heart he pretends not to have". (page 370) I just.. I give up.
Note: I have nothing against tropes. But in my opinion, Roen's character was copy and paste and didn't have any traits that distinguished him. I would have liked it better if Zelie and Roen's had a friendship instead of this insta-love.
As for the romance between Amari and Tzain, I found this to be much more believable. The two have been together for both books, and have been supporting each other emotionally in both. It just felt so much more natural and real to me.
Honestly, I really loved Amari in this book. She is really active, although she is insecure and grieving she is strong in her conviction and makes decisions that have real impact. Although her choices aren't always the best in hindsight, she does what she believes has to be done- regardless of what others think.
As for the end, I think it truly shows her change from the beginning of Book 1, a girl too scared to even stand up for her best friend, to someone willing to sacrifice innocents for her cause, willing to kill those she loves for the greater good. Whether or not this is a "good" change is another discussion entirely- but for me, Amari was the most interesting character in this book- torn between her grief, love of her family, her faith in her brother, and ultimately, her dead father's influence.
And I'm not the only one who got strong Daenerys S8 ep5 vibes from her- right? Right? I mean, a crazy dead king for a father, burning innocents to death in the name of "peace", the change from a helpless princess to a deranged despot- someone tell me they see it. Please.
As for the resurrection of the villagers- I have mixed feelings about this. Of course, it's great that their powers have increased and they are now able to resurrect people, enabling them to at least try to fight against Inan- but it just felt so convenient- and dare I say- unnecessary?
They end up losing at the end of the book anyway. I felt that this really cheapened Amari's actions - taking away much of the consequences and the guilt she would have had to deal with.
The story would have taken a much darker turn had the villagers stayed dead. Amari would have had to live with the deaths she'd caused - which would have made for some very interesting character development. The Maji would have stormed the palace knowing they probably lose, but willing to fight to the death anyway. That's honestly the kind of story I would
have liked better - but I think it's unfair of me to expect that from a YA novel.
I am the only one who didn't like Inan in this book? He just felt so - spineless to me? Like, I understand that he did what he could, but it felt like he always ceded to his mother or those around him. Also, I really wanted him to kill his mother. And he didn't. And then Amari didn't either- although she is the one responsible for the deaths of countless innocents, and her death would be more than justified. But no. Maybe it's the GOT fan in me that wants to see characters die.
And honestly, I really thought that Inan would be dead by the end of the book- but having been left on a cliffhanger (just like the first book), I'm pretty sure Adeyemi will keep him alive. It's not that I wanted him to die (Ok I kinda did). I was just thinking there was no way that all 4 main characters could survive this book. I'm sure I'm wrong.
Ok, so enough here's about the negative - here's what I did like about the book.
As usual, I really loved Adeyemi's writing style. I really appreciated the way Zelie was written in this book- it was very realistic to her situation. Her grief and guilt over her father's death and her desire to run away from it all, to escape the immense responsibility placed on her as the "Soldier Of Death", as she is referred to by the maji. I loved learning more about the use of magic in this Universe, as well as the other forms of world-building - Maji Sanctuary, the cast of characters, getting to see Inan in his role as King.
Overall, the book was fast-paced and full of suspense - I didn't want to put it down. It was a fun read and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.