CW: depictions of sexual assault and child abuse, domestic violence, references to suicide, and depictions of eating disorders and substance abuse. For more detailed information, please see the author’s website: http://victorialeewrites.com.
As soon as I finished The Fever King, I knew I had to read this sequel because that was a great ending. Even though I’ve gotten used to waiting an year for every sequel, I won’t deny that binging a series is always more fun. And this one was both fun and intense af, and I really wasn’t expecting it.
I thought I knew where the author was going to take this story but wow was I wrong. They managed to surprise me at every turn, both with an interesting plot that kept me engaged and with the sheer brutality of everything. The world is expanded upon a little, and we get to know more about life outside Carolinia, but I kept wanting more – not that it in anyway lessened my enjoyment of the story itself. We also get two POVs this time, so it was finally good to be in Dara’s head. There are also many instances in the story where the author makes us question if there are any good sides in this conflict, forcing us to realize that war and conflict is usually much more messy and even people with good intentions end up having to do destructive things. However, it was their decision to end the story in the way they did that really surprised me but upon reflection, I think it was just the right choice.
But it was the depiction of abuse and domestic violence, the perpetrators and the survivors that was most impactful about this book. I don’t think I can talk more about it and do justice, but the author’s note about how this book is for survivors who have been gaslighted incessantly into believing that somehow it’s their fault, and that there’s a right and wrong way for “victims” to act, really felt right. We get to read about different kinds of survivors, how they cope and behave and just try to get through one day after another – and it’s a lesson to us all to not judge anyone in real life for doing the best they can.
Noam… I really don’t know what to say about him. He is still brave and strong but he is also stubborn in a way that prevents him from realizing how much of a deep shit he is in. But being in an abusive environment, trying to play both sides, figuring out constantly what is true and what is manipulated takes a lot of toll on him and I frankly kept waiting for the book to be over so that he could get some reprieve. He suffers a lot throughout the book and it just pained me that he was going on a path that he might not come back from.
Dara on the other hand is the clear headed one this time around, constrained by other factors but more or less in control of his thoughts and actions. Distance has given him a new perspective on the kind of abuse he has suffered and how he was on a destructive path using his addiction and eating disorder as coping mechanisms, but he is trying to be better now and I admired him for that.
Noam and Dara’s relationship is very fraught in this book – Dara pleading Noam to open his eyes and see the truth about his abusive situation, while Noam insisting that he had everything under control. Even when they couldn’t see eye to eye, it was obvious that they were agonizing over each other’s safety, and it really pained me to see them be so painfully in love but unable to truly articulate their feelings. This is a couple who’ve been through immense suffering and all I wanted was for them to finally be able to escape it all.
We also get to meet some new and old characters and I enjoyed all of them, though my slight complaint from book one remains that we don’t get to know most of them that well. It’s Lehrer instead who gets more time, both on the page as well as in the characters’ heads and I think the author’s depiction of this highly intelligent, charismatic, powerful and manipulative abuser was just perfect and maybe a cautionary tale to all of us that unfortunately many such people exist in real life.
In the end, all I have to say is that I’m very impressed and affected by this story. It’s a dark and brutal but ultimately hopeful story of survival, fighting back and reclaiming your life. If you enjoyed The Fever King, I promise this will impress you even more. And if you haven’t read this series but enjoy YA sci-fi stories about young people fighting back against systems of oppression, charismatic villains as well as the demons in their heads, this is the perfect choice for you. This book really is for survivors and I hope, just like the author, that someone out there feels seen and understood within these pages.
PS: Thank you to Skyscape and Netgalley for providing me with the advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.