CW: alcohol and drug use, violence and gore, talk of past suicide attempt
For a while there, I thought I might not read this book despite loving all of SJM’s books and Throne of Glass being my all time favorite series ever. I know all the criticisms about her books and I agree with most of them too, so I guess I was just uncertain for a bit if I wanted to spend so much time on a new series which might have the same issues and is also such a huge intimidating one on top of it. But ultimately I couldn’t resist and it was a binge read without a night’s sleep just like I’ve done so many times before for her books.
No one can convince me that she doesn’t write an entertaining story because she really does and I get so invested that I don’t wanna put it down at all, and it’s what happened here. Once the initial hook got me in at about 9%, I spent the next 14-16 hours just binging the book except for small breaks for food and essentials. It’s not exactly fast paced but it’s quite engaging and holds your interest very well and is pretty entertaining with the right dosage of humor, angst, mystery and action. That’s not to say the book was amazing from beginning to end.
There is a lot of info dumping at the beginning and it confused me so much, because no way was I going to remember all the different houses and creatures and history of them all. Thankfully, it evens out a bit after the first 10% and the world building becomes more relevant to what’s happening to the characters making it easier to follow along. The book is also huge, so understandably the middle portion slows down a bit where we feel the action is lacking, but I never got bored and I think it just gave me more more time to get invested in the characters. But one thing I can’t deny is how vast the author’s imagination is because this book has so much – a wide variety of creatures and their dynamics, war, rebellion and oppression, a serial murder mystery at its heart and its investigation – it covers a lot of ground and I was amazed at the scope of it all. And I guess many of us fans were anticipating what an adult SJM book would be like, and while there’s a lot of swearing, I promise you it doesn’t have all the smut that everyone expects it to. And the last thing which unfortunately I can’t not mention is the usage of the word “male” over and over again still grates me and I really hope the author rethinks that. Thankfully “mate” isn’t that repetitive this time around 😜
The best part of SJMs books are always the characters and it’s not any different here. Bryce, our main character starts off a bit annoying and stays that way for a long while, so it’s not easy to like her, but she also has been a through a lot in in life and her struggles with abject grief and abandonment make us feel a lot of empathy towards her. She is half human, half Fae which means she is very vulnerable in a city full of powerful beings but that doesn’t stop her from being extremely impulsive and putting herself in dangerous situations, which pissed me off at times but also impressed me when she would jump in to protect her friends without thinking about herself. She is also quite judgmental about all male characters without really trying to know them, calling them “alphaholes” repetitively – which I could have understood if we got a bit more of backstory about why she felt that way specifically but it’s never really cleared up. However, she grows a lot through the story, learning to manage her grief, letting herself to trust others and make friends again and ultimately just do the right thing during a crisis. It’s in those moments that we get to see her bravery and selflessness and her desire to protect and I did come to really like her towards the end.
Athalar is a fallen angel/ slave who is basically an assassin for his master but despite whatever first impressions we as a reader and Bryce have about him, he was such an amazing character. He is an idealist who wants to fight the oppressive hierarchy that exists in their world but is helpless to do so after what happened in his past and he has so much to grieve about, but I just thought deep down he was an incredibly kind and considerate person and there were so many moments where he brought levity to the proceedings.
The relationship between Bryce and Athalar is a real slow burn which starts off due to forced proximity as they proceed with their investigation, but ultimately turns into a strong friendship and I loved that. We get to see them just spend time together in normal situations like cooking breakfast, binge watching tv, bantering with each other – so we see the friendship grow right in front of our eyes which makes the development much more realistic and we can also see why and how they start falling for each other.
We have many other side characters and I really came to love so many of them. Bryce’s brother Ruhn maybe a Fae prince but I think the author did a good job differentiating him from the many Fae characters she has written previously. He is protective and can have a temper, but he is also very loving and just wants to be better than his asshole father. I also loved the dynamic he had with his two best friends Declan and Flynn and they made for a fun bunch. We don’t get to see a lot of Bryce’s friends June and Fury but we can totally feel how close they are and what they would do for each other. Isaiah is probably Athalar’s only friend and it was actually nice to seem him realize that he could have friends too and it wasn’t a bad thing. I don’t want to say much about who Syrinx and Lehabah are but they are the most delightful personalities in this book and I would totally read this book again just to see them. There are many more characters, good, bad and mysterious and I can’t wait to see more of them and get to know them better.
But ultimately, this book is not a romance but a story of friendship – long, abiding, soul deep friendship that gives you strength when you need it and unimaginable grief when you lose it. Danika may not be present physically for a lot of the book, but her presence and her friendship with Bryce permeates throughout the narrative and forms the core of this book and I could feel every single emotion that they felt for each other. I think we never really get to explore the grief that you might feel at the loss of a best friend in books in general, so I really appreciate the way the author handled it here – how it can be as debilitating as when you lose a lover and how you are permitted to grieve for it in your way and on your own time and you don’t have to move on fast just because everyone else says so. There are many other strong friendships throughout the book including the one between Bryce and Athalar and all these bonds were definitely my favorite part of the book.
In the end, I may not have wept during this book like I did for Empire of Storms it Kingdom of Ash, but I did tear up and I felt emotional and I also laughed a lot. This book was fun and entertaining to read and I never wanted to put it down. Despite quite a bit of info dumping at the beginning, the world building is mostly limited to that of one city and I hope it gets more expansive as the story goes on. If you are an SJM fan like me, you are probably already planning to read this one and I’ll just say, have fun. Otherwise, I’m not exactly sure whom to recommend this to – maybe check this out if you like urban fantasy settings, books with a huge cast of characters with a deep emphasis on friendship, not too action packed but engaging enough. And after that very long but quite thrilling climax portion of the book and a very mysterious epilogue, I’m already very excited for the sequel but I’m sure it’s gonna be a long long wait.