Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?
Review: I CAN’T HANDLE THAT ENDING. I need to start the next book so badly but I’m making myself review this one first – under protest!
First off, I’m seriously beginning to love Vhalla. She is so broken in this book, traumatized by the events from the first. I’ve mentioned this in many reviews, but I love when authors accurately portray characters with PTSD. So often they show a little to further the story line but then the character is magically cured; Trauma isn’t like that, it’s continuous and debilitating. You don’t know when or what might trigger an episode and it usually gets worse before it gets better. Vhalla has nightmares almost every night which results in her being sleep deprived constantly. She’s never had much of an appetite but now she barely eats. When something happens that reminds her of The Night of Fire and Wind or her imprisonment, she freezes. None of these things further the story line, if anything they’re tedious and redundant; but they’re realistic. This woman is traumatized and having friends who support her or falling in love don’t suddenly make it okay.
That being said, Vhalla is also an extremely strong character. Even when she breaks down she picks herself up again. By the end, I had so much admiration for her determination and growth.
“She had to survive if for no other reason than to spite the world.”
Aldrik. I don’t even know where to start. He’s broken too but in different ways. For him, he started breaking so long ago that he’s more resigned to it than anything. He doesn’t feel worthy because of it and especially feels like he doesn’t deserve Vhalla. He absolutely does. I loved getting to see the real him, the side he shows Vhalla, behind the mask he needs in order to be the Crown Prince. That contrast made it feel like I really got to know him in this book and I love all of it. He’s unapologetically badass, sweet, and cruelly apathetic when he needs to be. I particularly adored the flashbacks of his life we got to see. It helped me to understand some of the mysterious aspects that surrounded him throughout the first book.
I loved Larel. She’s an exceptional friend to Vhalla. She’s the one always picking Vhalla up when she breaks, holding her when she wakes up screaming from her nightmares. She’s simply an amazing human and I loved getting to know her better.
Daniel was a really fun character as well. He was the first person Vhalla meets after her trauma that she feels comfortable with. They both grew up in the East and visited the same places as children which sparks an instant friendship. I was worried for awhile that this was going to turn into a love triangle but luckily it didn’t. They gain that sort of intimate affection that comes from leaning on someone for comfort but they remain just close friends. I’m happy about this because I don’t think we see enough male/female friendships in books that don’t turn into romances.
The Emperor increasingly pissed me off. I expect it’ll only get worse over the rest of the series.
I really enjoyed the plot of this book. I’ve read quite a few reviews from people who didn’t like it, saying it’s just a filler book and nothing happens; and honestly that’s mostly true. But that’s why I liked it. Most of the book the army is just travelling from the capitol to the war in the North. This gave Vhalla a chance to learn who she is now and begin to come to terms with everything that’s happened. It gave her a chance to make new friends. It gave her and Aldrik a chance to actually form a relationship. We always hate when characters fall in love too fast, well this book gave them a chance to do it slowly. By the time they kiss for the first time, it’s months since they first met. That’s practically unheard of in YA world.
Overall I freaking adored this book. I thought it was a significant improvement over the first (and I liked that one too). I’d recommend it to any YA and fantasy readers. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on these books. Thanks for reading.