Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.
Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.
Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.
Oh wow, I really, really loved this book. The character arcs are so well done and the payoff at the end is great. Let the gushing begin!
Well, as I mentioned, the character arcs. Dara has been a mess for so many years. Now that he’s finally, somehow in the midst of everything that’s going on, found some time to confront his past and everything he’s had to go through as well as his own behaviors due to the abuse he suffered, he’s going through a lot of growth. It’s tough. You can see how tough it is, how much he struggles. That kind of abuse isn’t something you ever ‘get over’, it’s a daily process and you see that here. I loved seeing more things from Dara’s point of view as well, we can get a better understanding of what he’s thinking and he’s less ‘mysterious’ than he was in a lot of the first book.
Noam has a bit of a different path. After months of being under Lehrer’s wing, practically living at his apartment, not know if Dara lived or not, he’s in a much different place. You really don’t know, even when seeing things from Noam’s point of view sometimes, which side Noam is on. There seem to be things he agrees with Lehrer on at times. And it seems really hard for Noam to walk away from Lehrer despite everything. But then you see how much he cares about Dara and he does still care about the resistance movement. He’s been a rebel at heart, since the very beginning of the story. It makes for an interesting story, seeing how caught up in things Noam gets, and how stubborn he acts–continuing to make decisions that he will come to regret later. And I get it. These decisions, they’re the only thing he has control over. Or does he? Even if it’s the illusion of control, it’s something he has to hold on to because it’s all he thinks he can count on. He can’t allow himself to imagine a different future even as he works towards that very goal. Noam’s journey here is rough. He goes through some really dark shit and does some really dark things. He convinces himself he’s fine, that everything is fine, that it’s all under control. That’s his coping mechanism. It takes a lot for Noam to finally break and when it does, it’s almost too much.
I love Noam and Dara’s relationship. They balance each other. When one is off the rails the other one is a voice of reason. And yet as much as they clearly love each other, they can’t help hurting one another. Noam’s relationship with Lehrer is a further complication and a source of deep anxiety for Dara. He can’t stand it. And yet I think a part of him kind of understands, he’s been there himself. This is an important book in a lot of ways. It gives a voice to the abused. It’s not always an easy read–it’s tough to read about some of the things that Dara and Noam have gone through–but I think it’s worth it. I’ll admit it without shame that I cried once or twice reading this, it’s that emotionally engaging and there were parts that broke my heart just a little.
There’s some fantastic action and tension in this one as things ramp up and Lehrer starts to move against other countries. There is some horrific violence, things that are almost incomprehensible even to those responsible. Noam’s powers have come a long way from the start and it’s clear as to why Lehrer has picked him as a protege. That being said, I do think some things get lost. In book one we had this focus on migration and here that is all just swept aside by the rest of the plot. Noam and Dara are victims but they’re also responsible for some terrible things and there’s no repercussions for that. Although you might argue they were soldiers and they did what they had to do and also have already suffered enough for several lifetimes. There were a few things that seemed too convenient–characters that were there with no real purpose, others that seemed like afterthoughts (oh, right, remember that guy) and there’s one point in the book where the story seemed to jump ahead and took me a minute to realize what was going on. All that being said, they are pretty minor complaints because this book hit so strongly with other things.
Overall, this was a fantastic read, an important read. I can’t wait to see what is next for this author. 4.5/5 stars.