First of all: WWWAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
This is the sequel to V E Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, which I very much enjoyed.
This book has a very torturous last 60 pages because Schwab lets you know exactly what is going to happen, how the baddie is going to fuck up everything. AND SO YOU KNOW IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. And you have another 60 or so pages to read. So you to keep reading KNOWING EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. Then there is a tiny moment where you're like 'okay this is pretty bad but not as bad as what could happen'. BUT THEN IT HAPPENS ANYWAY. AND THEN WWAAAAHHHHHHHH! It fucking ends. Leaving you an emotional wreck.
Seriously, I could have finished this book a week ago but I couldn't face the ending. I had to emotionally prepare myself for WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.
I'm so glad the next one is out in February so I have just pre-ordered the bastard.
Anyway, plot. Right. So this picks up a little bit after the end of the first book. The two main characters Lila and Kell have parted ways, Lila to finally get on a ship and be a pirate (sort of). Much of the book centres around the implications of what Kell did to save his brother Rhy in A Darker Shade of Magic which I felt was really good. You get really fucking annoyed with the King and Queen but I think some of the reasons they are being paranoid are going to come to a-head in the next book.
You don't learn more about Lila in this book but you can start to see her change. I think she's going to have the most character development (perhaps) in the third book. Rhy also goes from a bit of an asshat to a more developed character as well. He feels more...responsible...maybe? I certainly liked him better in this book.
All the main characters though have changed. Which is great, they all went through a fairly traumatic event and are all dealing with it in different ways. Not all very constructive. They're all bouncing and careening off in directions that they probably won't have before. It was a very satisfying read from that perspective - the dialogue and plot helps show how they've changed rather than (in some novels) just have lots of clunky exposition where they tell you they have changed.
I think the gender balance is still good - lots of the powerful magicians in the tournament (that's one of the main bits of plot is a big tournament) are women. The addition of Alucard Emery (Lila's friend and Captain of the crew she's with) is still a dude though. One of the new characters, Okja (who no doubt will play a big part in the next book) is also a woman. So still not perfectly in balance but still okay. Still much better than most fantasy novels anyway.
Overall I bloody loved it. Even though it just tortures you along the way. You want certain things to happen and Schwab hints at them happening but then things fall apart again. It's so mean but then I loved the book, so whatever, that's my problem. Lila is still a bit too murdery to be entirely likeable but my god does she have some swagger. Not enough female characters have that swagger. I will deal with her murdery tendencies just to enjoy her utter 'I do not give a fuck about what you think and your conventions' any day of the week.
I also really liked Kell more in this book. I forget that he's still pretty young and I think his character development was also really impressive. The illusions that shaped his life were shattered and he's unable to find balance in this book. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next. BUT OH MY GOD I HOPE IT'S NOT SO TORTURE-Y AS THE LAST 50 PAGES.
My heart, I will not be able to take it.
Totally 5/5 (which is a whole star more than the first). Roll on February.