HOLY SHIT I GOT AN ARC OF THIS! This is one of those books where I would have stopped everything to read it the day it came out – I love the first book and I was finishing up a re-read of it via audiobook when I was contacted by Andrew Rowe about the ARC and I was so excciitteeedd!
If you haven’t read the first book, I’d go read the review for the first book instead, as this review is going to have major spoilers from the first book. I’ll be keeping the events of the second book pretty vague, however.
There is a glossary and also a nice summary at the beginning of the book, and I always find that to be a better idea as opposed to the characters tell themselves information they already know just to benefit the reader. You can easily skip this beginning summary chapter if you don’t need it – I had JUST finished a re-read so I went ahead and skipped ahead, but I imagine for people who haven’t read the first book in a while it would be a nice help, SAM is fairly long at about 600ish pages. Having the glossary lay out which types of mana do what, and what each of the attunements are and what they do was more helpful to me than the summary, since a glossary either doesn’t exist for the first book, or I missed it entirely.
There were so many unanswered questions at the end of the first book, is it really Tristan who’s the “Voice of the Tower”, where is he and how did he get involved with kidnapping a visage? Who is Keras and what is he, really? Is he a person, a demi god, a visage, someone related to the Tyrant in gold?
This book answers a lot of those questions, we get to know Keras a lot more and where he comes from and how his magic works. He uses a different magic system that’s linked to the magic in the Broken Mirror series – learning about that and finally getting a clearer picture on how these two timelines are related was fascinating. Keras uses “Dominions” and spells out a nice analogy for the reader on how they are related, but different from Attunements.
Keras also hints at more info on the other continents and their societies – there are families on Corin’s continent that have distant relations to families on Keras’s continent. It’s not clear at first how Keras managed to get through the barriers between the realms, but you do get a clearer picture on why he’s so powerful.
For people who were annoyed by the amount of magic explanation and theorizing, this book does not cut back on that. Personally, I really like that kind of thing, I don’t mind going in depth about magic and how it can and can’t work within the world. If anything we get an even bigger picture of how magic works in this world because we’re introduced to new attunements and new ways to use magic throughout the book.
I was wondering in the first book how prevalent LGBTQ themes were in this world’s society, I didn’t know if Jin was unusual in that he prefers men, or if that’s commonplace and not a big deal. As it turns out being asexual, bisexual, gay, or genderless isn’t a controversy in this world, and you’re much more likely to suffer from racism than homophobia. There’s also a genderless character known as Sheridan Theas – sibling to Elora Theas and they’re very mysterious and dangerous person, even Derek is wary of calling for their help. They have a “Necromancy” attunement which Corin thought was just a myth until Derek tells him otherwise. They are a devoted follower of the visage Wydd, who also is a genderless and ageless person who takes on a new persona depending on how they feel that day.
Watching Corin deal with his brother’s desertion of him and his family was interesting, it’s never a good feeling to watch one of your idols fall off their pedestal, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Why did Tristan just abandon him and his family without any word of his surviving the tower? Tristan also says something rather blunt, in that Corin should have “moved on” by now, and shouldn’t have been so preoccupied with finding him. It’s a major shift in tone as far as Corin’s inner thoughts about his brother.
One of the other major problems in the beginning of the book is trying to fix Sera after her mana burn out from the last book. She has deeply scarred her mana channels and traditional means of healing her are out of the question. The healers have all told her that her wounds aren’t treatable. She’s still trying to pass her courses though, so finding a cure is paramount for both Sera and Corin. She’s still unable to speak and she’s gone from a confident and snarky character to someone who’s struggling with anxiety and depression. There are a few options that have cropped up for Sera, but they are far-fetched and they are under a time constraint which makes things more difficult. One of the most promising leads is convincing Sheridan to aid in healing Sera, but their help will come with a cost – and Corin is forced to give up something valuable in exchange for their help.
As far as pacing, there seems to be a trend where some people prefer the tower, or they prefer the schooling and find the opposing plotline to drag. In SAM I switched seamlessly from tower to school and back again since dungeon crawling and magic schools are both tropes I adore. Given how tense things were when the last book left off, I did expect to get much more world scale action than we got in this book. I was half expecting there to be a war, but really this book focused on some problems for Corin and crew, and getting them finished with their first year at school. The last book left off after their second exam and this book picks up right where the last one left off. It takes you through Corin’s final exam where he and a big group of students are sent off into a monster-infested wood with a mission to complete. Bigger pieces are moving in the background, and you’re getting a wider perspective on the world, but things haven’t quite tipped over into an all out war yet. I think because I was expecting something like that the book dragged where it shouldn’t have because I was waiting for something to happen rather than being in the moment. It’s not written any differently than the first book with switches between classes and action scenes.
There’s a lot added to the book as well, there’s possible a sentient dagger that wanders off after being discovered inside the Jaden Box, there are new Attunements like the Arbiter Attunement Corin now has after completing his mission for Tenjin, and the Necromancy Attunement Sheridan has. Everything got expanded, a lot of things were answered, and all in all, it was a very satisfying book. Corin still struggles with all the ticks he had in the first book, and honestly, I like that… if personality traits as strong as OCD tendencies are just washed away by some miraculous thing that ‘cures’ the person of their troubles I find it unsatisfying and unrealistic resolution. Corin’s struggles for me make him easier to relate to – sometimes a little too much. I have a heart rate tracker and I’ve been warned by doctors I shouldn’t let it go over a certain BPM or I could risk cardiac arrest or a heart attack. That’s a scary fucking thing to associate with a number, so I find myself checking my HR tracker far too many times than is reasonable in a day.
Patrick finally gets his magic sword! Which makes me really happy. I love Patrick, he’s an underrated side character. He reminds me a bit of Samwise Gamgee, super loyal to his friend and all around easy to like sidekick. The way he got his sword also added to the world building showing a new kind of magic that works with forging/crafting things, so it was exciting for Patrick and me 🙂
Jin makes a reappearance, so you find out what happened to him in the tower, and also what his attunement is and what level he’s at. You also get some more backstory on him and why he’s visiting a foreign school. Things between him and Corin are extremely tense, Corin doesn’t feel like he can trust Jin anymore, and it’s clear Jin is more interested than Corin in initiating a new beginning for their friendship.
Final Score: 88/100
If you loved the first book I can’t imagine you being disappointed with the second, I devoured this one and had a ton of fun. I can’t wait for the audio to come out. If you had hesitations about the first book, your mileage may vary depending on why you didn’t like it.
Did you not enjoy it because of the in-depth analysis of magic and how it can and can’t be used? That does not ‘get better’, there’s just as much of it in the second. It also has about the same amount of ‘video game’ feel to it.
Did you not enjoy it because of Corin’s personality? Eh, maybe you’d like this one more, he matures a bit and grows as a person. He still has his ticks, but he’s working through it and becoming a little less naive and impulsive. There’s also a little less snark and banter since Sera is silent and depressed over the fact she has a ton of mana scarring – and Corin’s snark is toned down because he’s suffering from stress over Sera and everything else going on and he’s also dealing with losing some respect and reverence for his brother.
Did you not enjoy it because of the inclusion of LGBTQ themes? Hold onto your pants, because this one has a genderless character using the pronoun they, gay characters, and asexual characters – and it’s not a big deal in their society!