When right and wrong were so tangled up, how could you ever pull them apart?
Last year Vic James dazzled readers worldwide with her debut novel Gilded Cage that imagined an alternate England where the magically gifted Skilled ruled as autocrats over the enslaved commoners. James vision was heightened by her willingness to explore multiple viewpoints from rebellious commoners, to scheming Skilled nobles to offer something truly fresh and revelatory. But as that was just Book One the test for the newly released sequel Tarnished City is whether it can live up to its predecessor.
The answer’s in: not only does Tarnished City maintain the momentum brought in with Gilded Cage, it expands it. As novels go, it’s The Empire Strikes Back to A New Hope. Richer, darker, more complicated, and with plot developments and twists that change everything. Favorite old characters such as Abi and Luke Hadley, two enslaved commoners, return. Abi’s now joined the rebellion while Luke’s prisoner at Eilean Dochlais, seat of the sadistic Lord Crovan; a place both stunningly beautiful and home to some of the most unimaginable cruelty. Which is pretty much the whole universe James offers here. Many more magnificent feats of magic are seen and hints are given to a World of Light that is perhaps the source of the Skilled’s power. But the violence and brutality are even worse as well. The body count for character deaths just keeps on rising and the final denouement of the ‘Blood Fair’ is not for the faint of heart.
Meantime the incredibly powerful and corrupt Jardine family continue to engage in the sort of intrigues one generally associates with ancient Rome. Patriarch Whittam Jardine plots to become Chancellor on a permanent basis. His daughter-in-law, Bouda, plots to supplant him. And youngest son and most talented Skilled in the world, Silyen Jardine, is playing a game of ten dimensional chess all his own – to what end game, no one can guess. For that matter, commoner Jon Faiers returns as well and his motives and ultimate aspirations are as murky as that of any Skilled. Numerous characters have to choose between competing loyalties to family, to power, to ideals, and new alliances are formed, as well as new betrayals. It’s a helluva ride with the final chapters leaving one gasping for air; and panting to see what James has in store for us in Book Three.
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