I would not have predicted any of this from first starting this series, and I absolutely love that about these novels.
All three queens have managed to survive the events of the first book, but Queen Katharine has come back… different. Betrayal will do that to you, of course, but even so, her former-and-perhaps-still beloved, Pietyr, thinks something else has driven her return from certain death. Meanwhile, Queen Arsinoe is trying to come to grips with her powers even as her best friend, Jules, discovers new facets of her own. Queen Mirabella, once the favorite to ascend, is now questioning whether she even wants any of this. The lack of freedom as sole queen would be bad enough, but having to murder her sisters to take the throne is a price that now seems far too high, especially after the revelations of the last book and the continuing lessons of this one.
I was actually really pleased by the ending, for the queens, at least. Becoming queen of Fennbirn is a nightmarish process, and I’m happy that it can seemingly be escaped without death altogether. I felt really badly for Katharine, tho: I know she’s been the most villainous of the sisters in this installment but even without the supernatural influence, I can see why she’d go super dark. And then to discover at the end the cost of her upbringing on her body was so rough, and so dark, and so weirdly satisfying to me as a reader.
Kendare Blake sets up her narrative targets then lops their heads off with perfect strokes, and it is so much fun to read along as she weaves together more twists than Detective Pikachu can focus a magnifying glass on. The only thing I didn’t really understand was Jules’ decision at the end. I sorta got it, and since it wasn’t a point-of-view chapter of hers, I could hardly expect more internal explanation than was on the page, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her motivations explored in the next book, which I’ve put on hold with the library tho who knows when I’ll be able to actually get to it. Terrific series with two really strong installments so far: here’s to reading more!