I loved the first book and I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for the second and third book to come out on audio and hallelujah the wait is over!! I was pretty sad to learn this does not follow Grace and Stephen further into their relationship and adventures. We start over with a character we sort of know, Istvhan, and a new character, Clara.
So, I’m sensing a trend with this author to write stand alone novels set within the same world, kind of like Benedict Patrick or Terry Pratchett. The last story followed a paladin from the order of the Saint of Steel. Well, the Saint died, no one knows how, and it drove all the paladin’s batshit. They have something called the Black Tide and it sends them into this killing rampage. Their god used to keep things under wraps and in control, but once he died they lost control. Most did not survive, they either were put down when tehy went insane, or killed themselves after guilt/emptiness was too much for them. However, there are something like seven survivors and they have devoted themselves to the Order of the Rat. A benevolent religion that are the worlds problem solvers and diplomats of a sort. They tend to be clerics and lawyers and people like that, not so much paladins. However, the Rat saw a problem and solved it by using them as body guards for more important dignitaries and such.
Istvhan finds himself escorting a really rich guy who makes barrels out of a rare wood found only in one grove. While he was out in foreign lands he finds himself challenged to a duel, the kid is barely old enough to hold a sword, and try as he might to not kill the young fellow, he practically skewered himself on his sword out of incompetence. I forget precisely what the laws are, but I believe that kids family had to pay some kind of penance for the inconvenience and Istvhan was given a sword… and Clara. He was horrified and tried to say no, but she calmly explains that if he sends her back it will be a grave insult. She has to explain it to him in very small words and insist before he relents. She wants to go the same direction he’s headed anyway, so why not just take her along?
Clara is a giant of a woman, over six foot, broad shoulders, looks like she can handle herself and he figures he likely won’t slow him down. She explains that she’s from the order of Saint Ursa, and that her sisters have been kidnapped and she’s trying to find them before it’s too late. So both of them set off on their own adventures which happen to be headed in the same direction.
Now, if you know T. Kingfisher you’ll know that slow burn romance that take nearly the entire book to get going is her MO. So, very early on we get Istvhan thinking sexy thoughts about this giant bear of a lady. It gave me serious Tormund and Brienne vibes. Now, Clara has a secret she doesn’t think she can share with anyone. I as a reader found it easy to predict, but, it certainly catches Istvhan by surprise. It’s a big hesitation for her since anyone who has learned of her secret in the past treats her as a freak.
So, the whole book we’ve got Istvhan trying to convince her to bang. I nearly exploded. I ranted to twitter “fuck or get off the pot”. Goodness me. Okay, so UST (unresolved sexual tension) is something I usually hate. I loved it here when it was funny/humorous. I still hated it when it was angsty. I just do not get along with whiny, I want to fuck this person but I can’t. Make me laugh when you’re doing it and it’s okay, apparently. Always down for a laugh, or a fuck, just do it already. Also, just as a plot thing, it had way, way, way too many inconvenient interruptions where they were about to bang, and someone came in and interrupted them. My goodness, once is funny, five times is like STOP. At one point Istvhan says, “I think the gods are trying to keep us apart.” No, it’s a sadistic author. Slow burn doesn’t cover it, lol.
I love the rejection of ‘large person means stupid person’ that we had in this book. Both of the MCs here are large people, and both of them are very smart, and some of my favorite parts of this book were the two of them trying to figure each other out.
I love that the white rat is still a part of the story, and I appreciated the nod to Swordheart, small though it was. I fucking love the priests of the rat, they tend to harbor scientists asking all sorts of hilarious but also very fascinating questions when they encounter new magic. It’s such an endearing way to explore the magic without info dumping via lecture. It’s so my thing. There’s a rat priest character here, but a smaller role than the last book. I also liked the rat priest from the other book more as well, but it’s not to say I didn’t like this one.
Necromancy took up a good portion of the book, with Clara and Istvhan stumbling upon reports of headless corpses. Once we hit the necromancers things really kick up a notch and the pacing gets fairly frantic all the way until the end. I looked down and there was only half an hour left in the audiobook and I was like, can this even wrap up? It did though.
The writing as always was cute and endearing. The main characters in her story are pretty much always giant squishes with quirks and tons of personality. They make for relatable and easy to root for characters, as well as cute and endearing romances. Since Clara has an enhanced sense of smell, just like in the first book scent played a large role in the writing and that’s such a huge plus for me as someone who can smell books but struggles to visualize them. As a side note, twice in the book there was a line referencing Clara that said something to the effect of, “knew she was the most dangerous thing in the woods”. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but that’s the precise language used to describe Granny Weatherwax.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a romance story that’s easy to get into and love the characters. Someone who’s looking for a more old school style fantasy setting, hand wavey magic, magical creatures, with a great audiobook.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 14/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Enjoyment: 8.5/10
Final Score: 85.5/100