This series began with ‘The Kingdom of Liars,’ which I read a few years ago. I read ‘The Two faced Queen’ a few weeks ago. If you have not read this series and want to know my suggestion: READ THIS SERIES. Every book is better than the last. Book 3 is easily the best in the series.
Spoilers below. As the saying goes, ‘unasked for critique smells like three-day-old-fish.’ It’s easy for a reviewer to point out mistakes, but it’s HARD for an author to avoid those mistakes. I’m writing this review in good faith, as one author reviewing another’s book, trying to balance positives with negatives.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE? WHAT GENRES? WHAT MAJOR TROPES?
- LOTS of magic systems. This series had like 5+ magic systems, only one of which got any fleshing out. Think of it as a magical kitchen sink.
- Mystery, intricate plot
- Backstabbing, political plot
- Monsters from Ancient History returning, with a vengeance.
IF YOU ARE IN THE TARGET AUDIENCE, OR THE GENRES/TROPES SOUND INTERESTING TO YOU, SHOULD YOU READ THIS?
MY EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
This book, and series, attempted to do something fairly unique in the setting. It didn’t have a traditional story structure, but instead focused on uncovering mystery after mystery, secret after secret, trying to discover the truth at the heart of it all. I found this plot fascinating, but I’m not entirely sure it accomplished what it set out to do. Regardless of this book being a bit rough around the edges, I had fun the entire time.
And finally, I LOVED the ending. It ended on just the right note to make the entire series sing. I will 100% be reading more by this author. He is clearly very talented, despite the roughness. I’m looking forward to his next books.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (4/5 Stars)
Note: I default to giving 3 stars to good books. 4 stars for me is a marker of great books. 5 stars is a marker of excellence, and I usually only hand it out to two or three books a year.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
None to speak of. I came into this series blind, and had some no-nonsense good fun reading it.
- The author’s storytelling vibe reminded me of a slightly less-polished Brandon Sanderson, combined with Will Wight.
- It focused on numerous, in-depth magic systems, combined with a deep and intricate plot.
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
The protagonist Michael is the descendant of a famous bloodline of warriors and heroes. The legacy of countless generations rests on his shoulders, to live up to the example set by his ancestors. Only, before Michael can partake in any heroism, his father assassinates the Crown Prince. Michael’s father is executed, and Michael is branded as a traitor, and exiled from polite society.
But not all is as it seems. As the trilogy progresses, the innocence of Michael’s father is revealed, revealing conspiracy after conspiracy, set up by various opposed factions, all intent on either saving the world, destroying the world, or creating a new world to replace the old one. Michael must regain his family’s honor, live up to his legacy of heroism, and hopefully find some love in the process.
This concept was decently well executed upon; not the best, not the worst. I’ll go into deeper details below, but I’ll summarize it here: the book was great fun, but it felt like the series had a few rough edges. However, the rough edges were in no way an obstacle to enjoying it, and indeed added charm to the final product. I highly recommend this series.
Now, I will complement the author as well. The author noticeably improved in characterization from book 1 to book 3. Speaking of which…
CHARACTERS, CHARACTERIZATION AND DIALOG
I left the first book in the series feeling like the author needed to work on improving his characterization. After reading book 1, I barely had an impression of any of the characters. By book 3, I had gained that impression. The protagoninst Michael in particular was very well done. I enjoyed how much of a chip on his shoulder he had. Michael, as the final descendant of a line of heroes, feels the NEED to live up to the example set by his ancestors. And when fate comes calling in this series, Michael steps up to the plate with gusto. He was the constant underdog while fighting dragons and demigods, but through sheer grit and ingenuity he comes out the winner in the end.
I liked the twist involving Serene, Michael’s love interest. At the beginning of book 3 Serene becomes a complete amnesiac, completely reverting their relationship to square 1. I can’t remember the last time I saw an author take such a brave step in their storytelling. And it worked. By rebooting her character, the author was able to explore her personality in a whole new way.
If I were to list a flaw which stretched throughout the series, it’d be the fact that all of the antagonists consistently underestimated Michael and verbally put him down despite his many accomplishments. I really HATE when books do this, because it undermines the intelligence of the villains involved. Mild spoiler here, but Michael killed a dragon in book 1; the bad guys still underestimating him after that makes the bad guys look really really stupid. This is an example of bad characterization.
Another minor flaw I’d list is that pretty much all the characters spoke dialog with a modern voice. For example, a queen used the word ‘asshole’ in conversation. A queen should be a member of high society, raised not to use coarse language; her using that word took me out of the story.
But overall, the characters all served their roles in the story very well. I enjoyed them.
PACING AND STRUCTURE
This book had an unusual storytelling structure/genre. Instead of being a classic story structure like ‘Hero defeats Big Bad’ or ‘Hero goes on Quest,’ this series took a different tract. The genre of the story was the uncovering of secrets involved in various ancient conspiracies, trying to discover the truth at the root of it all, which maybe no one is aware of. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything with a similar concept.
Pacing wise, this series was fast-paced throughout. This was somewhat strange, given how long the individual books are that there are not any significantly slow points.
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
As said previously, this book was very intricately plotted, with lots of fun twists and turns, secrets and secret-reveals. I don’t want to say much, because basically anything I say will be some manner of spoiler. Overall, it was a wild ride and I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
In earlier books I complained that it had a lot of twists-for-the-sake-of-twists, but in this final book a lot of those twists actually became relevant to the finale. I’m tempted to re-read the series just so I can spot all the hints and clues located in earlier stories. Suffice it to say, if you read my prior reviews, disregard the parts where I complain about all the twists; they all paid off. I’m going back to edit those reviews now.
I will say that the ending of the series was magnificent. This series ended with style.
This series had very good, end-of-the-world stakes. Referring to the cover of the first book, the moon was shattered in the distant past, nearly causing a world-ending apocalypse, an apocalypse the world barely recovered from. There is another moon, and over the course of this series the second moon is at risk of shattering and destroying the planet again.
Complementing these end-of-the-world stakes are personal stakes. In book 2, a serial killer is on the loose, threatening to kill the protagonist’s loved ones. By grounding the stakes in something so personal to the characters, the story never seemed to get over it’s skis.
The series’ tension was good, especially in the first book. Multiple important characters died in the first book, adding weight to the narrative. I felt the tension fade in books 2 & 3 due to a lack of important character deaths. However, this was offset by the fact that pretty much half the cast is immortal. I call it a wash.
AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
Tone and Prose wise, this reminded me of Sanderson and Will Wight. See the next section for my thoughts.
Theme wise, this series discussed topics of loyalty and betrayal, truth and lies, and how much does one’s memories make a person. There were also themes of grief, love and letting go.
Probably the best theme was memory loss. Amnesia was the main conceit of the main magic system. Fabricating makes you forget memories as a cost to use magic, so over time as a person uses their magic they forget things.
As a spoilery example, in the third book a mirror demon was introduced who eats memories. What made this demon interesting was that it would steal important memories, in such a way as to make targeted changes to a person’s personality. The demon stole Serene’s memories of Michael, deliberately ruining their relationship. Further, when Serene became a full amnesiac, her personality completely changed. She started as a cool and controlled queen, who was famous for her machinations like a spider in a web (hence her title, ‘The Two Faced Queen.’) After losing her memories, she became a damsel who’d visit pubs to sing with sailors, with a more forthright attitude, outright scorning her past life. This was a good exploration of the theme of memory loss, and how it might affect a person.
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
This book’s setting/worldbuilding style reminded me of a mixture of Brandon Sanderson and Will Wight. It had Sanderson’s focus on a cost-effect based magic system, where magic is treated as a system with pseudo-scientific precision by in-world characters. It had Will Wight’s grab-bag, anything goes attitude of worldbuilding and new magic systems. We have dragons! Mirror demons! Pain magic! Exploding void balls! And more! And more! And MORE!
The setting was fun, but I didn’t fully click with it. I think part of the problem was that the final reveals of the hard magic system were revealed in the last few chapters of the final book. This was a conspiracy based book, and even the magic was a secret. The problem I had was that it was too secretive. I feel like the reveal of the linkages between the magic systems should have been revealed in book 2, or early book 3. Because we had so few answers for basically the entire story, the magic system felt like a soft magic system, as opposed to a hard magic system. I don’t think that was what the author intended.
But overall I had great fun with this book’s worldbuilding. It was vast and broad and innovative, twisting back in upon itself, making everything connected in the end.
The audiobook narrator did a fantastic job for helping me enjoy the text. Probably added a full star to my enjoyment, from 3 stars to 4 stars.
As an author, I want to improve my own writing/editing skills. To that end, I like to learn lessons from every story I read. Here’s what I learned from this story:
- This series contained a metric ton of twists and plot reveals. While at times I got a little frustrated that there were so many twists, making them all hard to track, by the end of the book they mostly all paid off. The lesson is all in set-up and pay off. Foreshadowing is key.
Here’s a link to all the lessons I’ve previously learned.
This is a great series. You should read it, if you haven’t already.
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