I enjoyed this book. This is book 2 in the ‘Burningblade and Silvereye’ series by Django Wexler. Book 1 was ‘Ashes of the Sun.‘ Book1 was one of my favorite books of the year I read it. If you want a TL;DR of this post, I suggest you read ‘Ashes’ and then ‘Blood.’ This book 2 improves upon what book 1 accomplished, in my opinion.
Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
This is book 2 in this series. I would not be reading book 2 if I didn’t enjoy book 1. As a result, as you read this review bear in mind that I am inclined to enjoy it based upon the fact that I enjoyed book 1.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE? WHAT GENRES DOES THIS FALL INTO?
- High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy.
- Lots of female characters in the adventuring parties. The ratio of male to female is (2:5).
- People who want to see some of the themes of Star Wars explored- namely the potential corruption of the Jedi Order. One of the protagonists (Maya) is a part of the Twilight Order (this setting’s version of Jedi) and she’s come to realize that evildoers have infiltrated her Order.
- People who want to see a fascinating deconstruction of a rebellion story. In this book 2, the heroes must team up with the rebellion against the corrupt Twilight Order… but that rebellion fights with itself more than it fights against the Order.
- This struck me as a realistic take on the ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ trope. Sometimes you’re just enemies.
- It reminded me of some of what I’ve learned about real world rebellion internescine squabbles, which were the rebels are more prone to fighting amongst themselves over philosophical ideals than their fascist overlords.
- Magical swordfights (think Jedi swordfighting duels)
- Gross biopunk magic, where the heroes must fight against cobbled together frankenstien’s monsters made out of people and random animals.
- Adults, with some YA crossover (16+).
- There is some fairly gross violence and body horror in this novel, which would not be safe for all audiences. One protagonist incinerates (relatively) innocent soldiers in combat, while the other protag ambushes and kills (relatively) innocent town guards as a part of a rebellion. Also, tentacles and frankenstein’s monsters.
- There is no sexual violence.
- LGBT friendly, with around half of the main cast being somewhere on the LGBT spectrum.
READER’S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
I am in this book’s target audience. As a result, I am predisposed to enjoy this book. This grading is entirely subjective as a result. If you are like me and in this book’s target audience, you might enjoy this. If not, then maybe not.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (4.5/5 Stars)
(5 Stars= Perfect, 4=Great, 3=Good/Average, 2=Fun but Flawed, 1=Not Recommended)
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
This book’s concept is tied up with it’s dual narrative. It has two POV protagonists: Maya and Gyre.
Maya is part of the Twilight Order. In normal circumstances, the Twilight Order defends mankind from the things which go bump in the night; but in recent years the Order is as much a threat to mankind as the monsters themselves, as they’ve started using their power to accrue wealth. Maya wants to purge that corruption.
Gyre is a rebel against the system, and tries to bring down the entire Order. As a brother and sister who care for one another, Gyre and Maya’s conflict has innate tension to it.
In this book, Maya is sent on a wild goose chase, working for conflicting factions in the Order. She can’t tell for certain which faction is good, and which is corrupt. With her trusted mentor out of commission, she’s all alone in the Order, save for her three remaining friends. Whereas Gyre, being a rebel, has lots of agency in deciding on a new path for his rebelling. He makes a bunch of new and old friends, and travels to a new city to rebel there. (The city from book 1 being under heavy guard after the events of book 1.) Their story eventually converges.
In book 1, Maya was the more prominent protagonist, but I felt that Gyre was the more compelling protagonist in book 2. This isn’t to say Maya’s plot arc was bad; I was simply more interested in Gyre’s. I liked how the author explored the somewhat messier side of managing a rebellion.
Overall, I give the story’s Concept and Execution a rating of: (B)
CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:
THANK GOD, the author fixed the Kit problem from book 1. In book 1 I unapologetically HATED the character of Kit. Kit was supposed to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is a personality trope I despise reading. Going into book 2, I was dreading the return of Kit. But the author managed to redeem Kit as a character while staying true to her Manic Pixie character type. How, you ask? By adding additional characters to Gyre’s adventuring squad.
In book 1, for a majority of the book Gyre’s squad was just Gyre+Kit. And as Gyre’s personality is a lot less forward than Kit, Kit’s personality dominated vast segments of Gyre’s storyline. I got frustrated because there was just too much Kit. Too much salt spoils the soup.
In book 2, the author added 2 more characters to Gyre’s squad, so it’s Gyre+Kit+Sarah+Elariel. Due to the addition of these two characters (plus Kit being forced to remain in hiding for large segments of the book), Kit’s dominating personality is diluted. She became a comic relief character, instead of a main driver of the plot.
And to cap it all off, Kit acts a lot less toxic in this book. She and Gyre had a relationship in book 1, but Kit died in book 1 and had her brain downloaded into robots. In book 2, instead of insisting Gyre remain faithful to her even in death, instead robot-Kit actively acts as Gyre’s (slightly pervy) wingman with the other women in his adventures. In book 1 she was emotionally toxic and demanding upon Gyre, but in book 2 she’s (arguably) emotionally healthy towards Gyre. That’s character growth.
Besides that, I enjoyed the characters in this book just as much as I enjoyed them in book 1. See my book 1 review for details of what and why I enjoyed them.
Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (A-)
PACING AND STRUCTURE
As this book contained 2 narratives, I’m going to analyze both of them. Beware spoilers.
Act 1: In The Ghoul Mountain and a Return to Deepfire
- This section of Gyre’s story was reminiscent of the prior story. Gyre returns to the Ghoul Mountain and Deepfire, which were settings in book 1.
- I enjoyed this section, because it rapidly brought me back into the setting and story. It re-introduced characters, new and old, without needing to do a lot of work. I liked the author’s re-intro of Sarah and Elariel, because it quickly re-established their personalities.
Act 2: Dissension among the Rebellion
- Gyre’s squad gets allies and buys resources, and then sets out to the Lightning Barons’ barony to join the rebellion there. They smuggle black market materials through the splinter kingdoms, nearly get caught, but finally arrive.
- When they get there, they are ambushed by their own allies. The rebellion in the barony is splintered into 4 factions: loyalists, Greens, Whites and Blacks. I liked this development, as I said above.
Act 3: Defending Against the Order
- To unite the factions, Gyre shows how over powered his cybernetic enhancements are, killing some legionaries of the Republic- including a corrupt member of the Order.
- In retaliation, Maya and 2 other Twilight Centarchs (Centarchs=Jedi) attack Gyre’s crew and the rebels. Using cleverness, and overpowered cyber enhancements, Gyre and crew hold them off.
Act 4: Adventure with Maya
- After Gyre holds off Maya, Maya and Gyre team up to complete her mission.
Act 1: A Hike Through Abandoned Lands- and the Abandoned Village
- Maya and her crew are sent on a mission to go to a long-lost Chosen vault. The problem? It’s surrounded by eldritch abominations made out of dismembered human parts.
- When they arrive, they find a human village. A mad scientist spider wizard has ‘domesticated’ the people of the village and raises them from birth to grave to use as a source of dismembered human parts. Maya and co. defeat the spider wizard, free the village, and enter the vault.
- In the vault, they are introduced to 2 new plotpoints: the radio, and Maya’s power dampener.
- I liked this section, because it echoed book 1, where Maya and Tanax traveled together and saved a small town from plaguespawn. once again, they save people from plaguespawn.
Act 2: Returning to the Forge, and the Bankrobbery from the Vault
- In the Forge, the team reports in to their boss, telling him about the radio. He orders her to go steal a radio from a bank vault in the middle of town.
- They go steal the radio from the bank vault, with the help of Tanax from the first book. I liked Tanax in this section. I wish he traveled with the crew for the rest of the book.
- I enjoyed this section, but I thought it could have been better. For example, the heroes could have made a daring escape from the bank under fire or something to increase tension.
- Listening to the radio, Maya receives instructions from a Chosen.
Act 3: Saving the Lightning Barons
- Maya and 2 other Centarchs go attack Gyre’s rebels, coming to the rescue of the Lightning Barons. However, they fail because Gyre is over powered.
Act 4: Adventure with Gyre
- Both protagonsits team up, and go complete her orders from the Chosen.
- They complete her orders, curing a plague. By curing a plague, they free the Chosen from captivity, because he’s no longer afraid of getting sick and dying.
- Oops! The Chosen was the antagonist at the heart of the Order’s corruption. Not only that, he was the father of the mad scientist spider wizards from books 1 and 2, and all the other plaguespawn.
This structure worked. I liked how the protagonists had two different stories in the first half of the book, but in the second half their stories blended together. The author did something similar with the first book, and it worked well there too.
The book was well paced. I never got bored.
(Additionally, another thing I liked was the fact that this book was a full 100pages shorter than the first one. It felt much tighter, and better edited. Kudos to the author/editing team. No series bloat with this one!)
Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (A-)
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
While I enjoyed the ultimate twist ending of Maya’s plotline, the plot up until the twist end just didn’t feel cohesive enough. While I was reading the book, it felt as though Maya was going from one random plot point to another, with nothing connecting them. The twist connected the random plot points, but until the twist I wasn’t sold. The twist made her plot line emotionally compelling, but until the twist I was disengaged emotionally from her narrative. I wasn’t bored with her plotline, but I also wasn’t enthralled.
I enjoyed Gyre’s story more in this book. His frustration with Deepfire felt real, and his decision to take agency and pull up stakes and move felt legitimate. I liked how his smuggling journey nearly went haywire in the splinter kingdoms. I liked how even when he successfully reached his fellow rebels in the barony, he was confronted by yet another problem, this time being the dissention amongst the ranks of rebels. The author successfully used the ‘Yes, but/ No, and’ storytelling technique.
The ‘Yes, but/No, and’ style is basically when an author ends one story beat and introduces another in the same scene.
- For ‘Yes, but’, if the protagonist successfully does X, they will suffer a setback in the next story beat. As an example in this book, Gyre successfully arrived in the barony, but upon arriving he had the new problem of dissention amongst the rebels. So the success was arriving, but the fail was dissention.
- For ‘No, and,’ of the protag fails to do X, they will move on to the next story beat and have an unexpected windfall. As an example, when Maya and crew entered the bank vault and discovered the radio, they realized they couldn’t steal it without letting the people who owned the bank realize they’d broken in, meaning they had to leave the radio behind even if stealing it was their goal. That’s a fail. But when upon turning on the radio they made contact with the Chosen, an unexpected boon. The Chosen teaches them to make their own radio, and they escape.
I enjoyed the story’s stakes, but it was somewhat flawed. In retrospect, I wanted to know more about the Chosen Empire, before they freed the Chosen Corruptor. We know vague things about how Chosen rule was bad/socially repressive, and the Corruptor was bad, but it’s all very vague. Vague stakes aren’t great stakes. Some more worldbuilding would have been nice.
The book’s tension was good… but not as good as the first book in the series. The first book was made tense by the underlying question of whether or not brother and sister would kill one another. At the end of the first book, the two heroes didn’t kill one another. That is great tension.
In book 2, I had confidence in this book that once again they would not kill one another. Why? Because at the end of book 1 they didn’t kill one another. At points this book relied on the tension of brother and sister fighting, but that tension just didn’t work because the author already played that card in book 1.
I hope the author changes up the storytelling format for book 3- perhaps by having Gyre and Maya fighting on the same side starting with page 1. I hope the author doesn’t use ‘will the siblings kill one another?’ as the source of tension yet again, because it didn’t really work in this one.
Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (B)
AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
I enjoyed this book’s tone. In particular, I liked how both Maya and Gyre are good people who very much so regret killing the soldiers who fight for the opposite sides in their war. This regret served to make the tone feel dark, BUT ALSO helped add nuance to both characters, making them seem like better people.
This book’s themes included deception and betrayal. The Twilight Order has been infiltrated by corruption, while Gyre’s rebellion is filled with dissention and backstabbing. Even honest Maya is forced to double-deal and tell white lies by the end of the story.
Similarly, I think this series is developing another theme of the stagnant past being replaced with a new future, where the old deat vs dhaka (aka light vs dark) dialectic is being outmoded and replaced. The antagonist Corruptor uses both types of magic; Maya’s power-dampening crystal uses both types of magic; Elariel (a traditionalist dhaka mage) changes her mind and sees the virtue in crude, modern magic like quick-heal; and Bek (a traditionalist deat arcanist) admits the utility of learning more about dhaka.
The world is changing, and the old dialectic isn’t holding up to scrutiny any longer. Gyre makes a good point that using dark magic/dhaka is considered illegal by the Republic and Twilight Order because they don’t control it. I liked when the author included this. Yes, dark magic can be used for evil- but as we see in this book, so can light magic/deat.
I give the Authorial Voice: (B+)
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
I enjoyed the setting and worldbuilding in this one. I’m not going to be discussing it in depth because this is book 2, but suffice it to say I’m a fan of any setting that uses both plasma rifles and crossbows in the same fight and have it not seem anachronistic.
I give the Setting: (A-)
I loved the audiobook. The narrator was Imogen Church, who brought a lot of texture to the various characters. She gave the different people distinct accents; I particularly liked Gyre, Elariel and Kit. She successfully brought out Kit’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, hyper energetic personality forward, as well as Elariel’s reserved fish-out-of-water personality. The narrator has great range. My complements to the narrator, and I encourage you to check out the audiobook versions of this series.
The narrator’s performance increased my enjoyment of this book by a solid 10%, from 85% to 95%.
I give the Audiobook: (A+)
- The author uses a very good strategy of employing two protagonists who are opposed to one another for philosophical reasons. Both sides have good points behind their arguments, making the conflict between them more compelling. When they cooperate against a greater evil, it makes the cooperation feel earned.
- Have a good idea, and implement it. In this case, the author wanted to explore the ethics of the whole ‘Jedi stealing infants’ thing from Star Wars. That worked well here.
- Get a good audiobook narrator. This narrator was good.
- After book 1, I was dreading the return of Kit. I personally wanted the author to write her out of the series. He didn’t write her out, and instead found a way to both stay true to her innate characterization while also making her less annoying. Lesson: the author stuck to his guns and made a character who annoyed the audience (or at least annoyed me), and made her one of my favorite characters in the book.
This series is good, go read it. While I’m giving this a bunch of B+ and A- on my technical grading, I think I’ll round this up to a 5 stars on my enjoyment index. I enjoyed this read a lot, which is really the only score which matters. Good job for the author.
Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopia, Star Wars-Adjacent, LGBT, Kickass Female Protagonist
- Star Wars: Sorcerous Jedi vs Yuuzan Vong-like Yeti Wizards
- Lirael: Post-Apocalypic rebuilding period, with magical monsters, with dual protagonists
- The Shadow Campaigns: By the same author, had a somewhat similar rebellion plotline
- Gods of Blood and Powder: Had a somewhat similar rebellion plotline.
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
- The Price of Valour by Django Wexler
- Shadow of Elysium by Django Wexler
- The Guns of Empire
- The Infernal Battalion
- The Penitent Damned
- A Literary Discussion of ‘Ashes of the Sun’ by Django Wexler
- A Review of ‘Ashes of the Sun’ by Django Wexler
- The Gathering Storm
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- A Critique of ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ by Robin Hobb
- A Literary Study of ‘A Master of Djinn’ by P. Djeli Clark
- A Review of ‘The Haunting of Tram Car 015’ by P. Djeli Clark
- Why you should read ‘Rings, Swords and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature’ by Michael D. C. Drout
- A Literary Study of ‘Gideon the Ninth’ by Tamsyn