So on the one hand, I didn’t get anywhere near as mad at this second (final?) book as I did at its predecessor, The Belles. There were still a few moments of “oh, come on” but they faded into insignificance next to the real problem with this book: it feels entirely rushed. It’s not even a matter of pacing, tho events are compressed into a rather short span of time, it’s just that things don’t feel properly explored or are just stated plainly instead of built up to. For all its first person narrative, it’s not a whole lot more than “and then this happened, and then this happened.” There’s some real potential in the throne room climax, but the fact that I can barely even remember, less than a day since finishing the book, what happened after is hardly a testament to how interesting the rest of it proved to be.
Which is a shame, since Dhonielle Clayton’s world-building is a lush, wonderful thing. It’s just that very little of it feels thought through. If it doesn’t advance the plot, then there’s barely any explanation: it’s very “here are superficial descriptions of cool things!” There were also a few points in the book where I couldn’t tell whether she was paying homage to other books in the genre or just ripping them off. And I couldn’t take the Iron Ladies at all seriously. While I was intrigued by their philosophy and would like to learn more about how they control the madness that supposedly descends upon the Gris, I thought their hierarchy suspect and their calls and responses absurd, as if they were trying far too hard to look important.
And this is an entirely superficial complaint, but wtf is with that cover? The Belles had such a gorgeous design, and while I’m glad they kept the same model, bronze on navy is just so blah. I get that they’re going for something more “serious” but dullness doesn’t have to signify import. Which is also a problem I had with the content of the novel: it never really resolves the moral dilemma of beauty that it promised to in the first book. Sophia is clearly a monster and while The Everlasting Rose details the battle against her, it’s entirely flat when it comes to exploring the significance of her kingdom’s obsession with physical appearance. This is a shame, because this was a very promising series that turned out to be as shallow as anyone who judges a book by its cover. There was so much that could have been explored in the world of Orleans, but instead we get this weirdly rushed-feeling coda. It’s so ironic that a book seeking to question the value of beauty should turn out to be so shallow, in the end.