Life is never quite how you imagine it.
Genre: fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural, thriller, romance
*Let me preempt by saying Philippa sent me this book because I won her third book, Wrayth, in a book give-away. I am reviewing her first two books out of thanks for her kindness in sending them to me, and her third per the give-away rules. However, that has no affect on the review itself.
Warning: this post may contain spoilers or necessary information found in the first book, so get acquainted with this series, starting with my review of Book #1 here.
Spectyrs brought retribution on those who had wronged them.
Their shared sight dipped and swayed as Merrick tried to compensate for the staining of the ether. A scuttling sound made his mouth snap shut. Rats were running from every corner, scrambling through the walls, and skittering down the drainpipe. Animals were more sensitive than humans and always fled in the face of the undead. The noise was unnerving – even to the trained.
Beyond reality and time, the Otherside held knowledge that no human could ever possess, so the greatest Deacons of the Order had often taken chances to snatch what they could from the void.
This book continues in the principality of Vermillion, (part of the larger Arkaym nation) only one month after the attack of The Murashev, the most powerful geistlord, under the ossuary. It picks up with the despised Grand Duchess, and she is yet again getting in hot water and about to create more havoc and danger for the kingdom by calling on a goddess long without support.
I fear this addiction of yours will bring you nothing but ill.
Sorcha is (rightfully so) very cynical and bitter about the Emperor and the Order, given what happened on her assignment in the previous book and the betrayal of the Arch Abbot. The people do not trust, let alone respect, any of the Order anymore…when in fact their mistrust and fear should reside with the Emperor – or moreover, his militant sister, who just so happens to be second to the throne. Merrick is certain that time will pass and the people’s faith in the Order will return.
Life had taught her such things were oversimplifications – wishes that seldom came true in the complicated realities of existence.
When I first started reading the second book in this series, I was surprised that it started with the Grand Duchess (bad news), and not with Sorcha and Merrick on some task with the backstory from Book #1 entwined. I was a little thrown off, but then I was really thrown when “spectyrs” started appearing in the text. What is a spectyr? In Book #1 we learned that “shades” are the unliving remains of a dead person, and Book #2 gives a very short explanation about “spectyrs” – the evil cousins of shades…who want revenge. Ohhhh crap!
But you’ll soon see why Ballantine started off with the Duchess, and the situation Ballantine sets up explains how the roles work and some of the terminology, so you don’t necessarily need to read the first book. (Kudos – that can be hard to do.) Since the great shindig with the Otherside under the ossuary a few months before (Book #1), geist attacks have continued – although some are truly real, and others are just calls of paranoid citizens who believe they have a geist in their midst. During Sorcha and Merrick’s task, we find out they are assigned areas where there are no real geist attacks…except this is not the case this time. Precious Nynnia comes to them from the Otherside and gives a warning and glimpse of the future to Sorcha – a foreboding of what is to come.
It was apparent that for every rule there was an exception.
Since they returned to Vermillion as hunted fugitives in Book #1, the new Arch Abbot is keeping an eagle eye on Sorcha and Merrick. They are assigned meaningless tasks – guarding empty halls, escorting wagons of porcelain. They are kept on a very tight leash…with Sorcha’s husband and former partner, Kolya, following along. Although she has filed for the equivalent of a divorce in their world as well as dissolution of their Deacon’s partnership, Kolya is dillusioned into thinking her leaving the Abbey to save their world was merely her living in her fairytale mindset and “sneaking out” to avoid him. Grow up, pal. Which brings up a reminder of a couple things: Sorcha still shares a Deacon’s Bond with her husband, as well as one with her new partner, Merrick. And her bond with Merrick is so much stronger it is beyond what any Deacon’s Bond should be. But then, Sorcha and Merrick also share a Triple Bond with Raed the Young Pretender that was forged in haste in Book #1, that neither of them can break…and that’s not all she wrote! This Triple Bond will serve as the integral locking puzzle piece that draws this book together.
Meanwhile, the Young Pretender receives a summons from someone I thought dead from the way the first book went and must find his missing sister. He learns he cannot trust his entire crew, and singles some out for this excursion. Connection? Oh yes. But it’s not what I thought at all – it’s SO much bigger.
Now that Kolya is out of the infirmary, which his own rash actions caused, rumors abound within the Mother Abbey since Sorcha has moved out of their chamber into a small one next to Merrick – but they won’t be there for long. Kolya is like that crazy ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend, in this case) who just doesn’t get it. And wouldn’t even if you remarried. That’s how out of it he is. We didn’t see much at all of his character, let alone characteristics, in Book #1. The only thing we really gleaned from his character in Book #1 was that he likes to defy the rules (walking among crowds during a geist attack) and that he didn’t care one whit for his marriage. Not much has changed, except we find out he’s crazy and oblivious and annoying. As hell. Oh, AND in cahoots with Sorcha’s nemesis Rictun, who I think is just as tainted as former Abbot Hastler was.
Although Merrick has grown up some during his experience, and even with the betrayal of Arch Abbot Hastler, he is completely blinded to the animosity that the new Arch Abbot Rictun has for Sorcha. Indeed, as a reader we saw this in Book #1, but now that he is the head of the Order it really piques my curiosity. Yet Sorcha seems to have an ally on the Order Council – an enemy of Rictun’s? (I hope so – I’m holding out for a revolution of sorts; each time I see Rictun’s name I read it with a stink eye.)
What he also had were eyes that would suck out a person’s soul.
The Emperor, Kal, is in the hot seat: he must choose a wife – a proffered princess from other kingdoms in the empire. He must choose wisely, and he ironically chooses Princess Ezefia, sister of Prince Onika of Chioma, who is fabulously wealthy. Chioma is a principality south of Vermillion, home to all strange spices but also the most powerful, hard-to-detect poisons…and it’s the oldest kingdom, with the same ruling family since its beginning. And there are strange rumors about their ruler, quite strange rumors. Sorcha and Merrick accompany Princess Ezefia back to Chioma…but I think they are all getting more than they bargained for. Meanwhile, Raed’s journey to find his sister leads him right to Chioma.
I can trust very few in my Court – not even my own Deacons.
During their separate journeys to Chioma, it becomes apparent that Raed, Sorcha and Merrick are battling their own very personal issues on this journey. They arrive in Chioma and it seems like Ulrich all over again. The Prince of Chioma is not safe even inside the walls of his palace. There have been several murders already – of his unusual bloodline. The first murder was his Chancellor, second to Prince Onika, but all are told he died of old age…yet there’s no body. The Deacons of Chioma are quite odd; they openly worship the “little gods”, but particularly the goddess Hatipai. They wear robes of her colors – not colors of the Order they were sworn into. And then Sorcha and Merrick get separated…
We thought we knew better. We could go where we wished, harness all that power. We thought weirstones were harmless…
We see the return of Nynnia again, and she pulls Merrick back in time to a very pivotal turning point. He discovers some insight about who they refer to as the Ancients, and why they chose to move their famed grounds to the Otherside. So much is revealed in that section, that I can’t share without ruining it – but with that knowledge, things start pulling together to come full circle for readers. Suffice to say that The Native Order (often termed The Ancients) is not dead….and it turns out, they were dabbling in the Otherside quite a bit.
Some things you can’t fix once the time has passed.
Although Raed is on the hunt for his sister, and he has a handful of his most trusted working to find her…he is betrayed in the worst way possible. Reading this part, and his anguish of experiencing the terror and horror that the Rossin causes, and the fact that this beast killed his own mother, my heart hurt for him during this section. It was obvious his anguish and guilt and success at protecting from the Rossin was not considered. I felt those who betrayed him were very selfish, not seeing the big picture…but in a way, I agreed with one. Ten years of staying away, no real communication, is a long, trying, hard time.
From reading the first few chapters, I had the sneaky suspicion that an overthrow or revolution was going to happen in this book – and be exposed this time. I understand the reasons why Book #1’s geistlord fights couldn’t be explained to the people, and I thought something of the same sort (but on a more massive scale) was going to happen in this book.
I found it interesting that Ballantine references Raed’s grandfather’s reign – and the biggest problem he dealt with was slavery. He was the Abe Lincoln of the time, which is as yet unknown, but he also kept a diary as a young intended royal and mentions some interesting things about Chioma, including a brief and unexplained comment about it being an “ancient enemy.” Hmmmmmm.
You will definitely be thrown for a loop with this book. So many things are going on, and they all pull
together. Geist seemed like such a huge feat, but Ballantine was definitely not prepared to go home. She went big! I give 5 stars for this detailed, well-written book.
Safety is just an illusion.
You can continue reading the Book of the Order series with Ballantine’s third installment, Wrayth.