This book was published before its predecessor, Hope and Red, was reviewed on my blog. And somehow, many of the fixes were already implemented.
Spoiler alert: the sequel is better!
Hope and Red have split apart again in their missions to rid the Empire of Storms from the selfish wrath of the biomancers. Hope takes to the seas as the captain Dire Bane, aiming to build her forces strong enough to take out the biomancers once and for all. Meanwhile Red joins the nobility of Stonepeak, a disguise so the biomancers can keep their new experiment in check. This leaves Red plenty of time to plot against them. Both face challenges as they learn of the new plots the biomancers are pulling; a “shadow demon” assassin killing seeming innocents, girls being ripped from their families and herded to abandoned islands, the arrival of foreigners deemed threats to the empire. All while Hope and Red still seek freedom and justice they’ve yearned for in their year apart.
My initial complaints regard the first book in the series was that the fight scenes had next to no detail in them. I’m glad that Skovron found a way to solve this with plenty more ways to create action and stakes. High sea ship vs ship fights, political tension, mental tension. There was a lot of variety of points of conflict present in this book that always kept me on the edge of my seat. I honestly didn’t think I’d be engaged by maritime warfare, but I genuinely found those parts of the book among my favourites!
I also loved seeing the depth of the characters Hope and Red now they had matured and separated. Maybe it was how their character arcs this round felt realer than the first time, especially Hope. Her character on her own didn’t sit with me in book one as she did in book two. She felt far more engaging this time! And of course I still fall for Red’s charm. But I loved seeing such dark situations either faced and how their brains ticked in their respective places.
The secondary characters were thoroughly entertaining in this novel too. Even some characters that appeared for no more than two chapters had so much going on with them it was hard to not forget them! They were so distinct from each other, reminiscent of NPCs in a tabletop RPG campaign. My only complaint is that there weren’t any villains of the like – the biomancers felt like copy-paste boys in white robes. But all the good guys and neutral parties were incredibly distinct and zany that I can’t pick a favourite!
And now comes the main downpoint. Similar to how fight scenes were treated in the previous books, there were some emotionally harrowing scenes and moments that weren’t given enough time. They barely left an impact on me because they barely had enough pages to let it sink in. I wanted that dread to sink in! But the plot had to move forwards sadly. And there were some big whammies facing it too – character deaths! One reaction to a character’s death barely lasted a page! I wasn’t even sure if they were truly dead! The strong emotional realisations that some characters had just felt like an afterthought in some cases as well.
To finish off, after reading book one I was honestly very unsure if I would read the rest of the series or not. But now I’m very glad I did. Bring on Blood and Tempest!
Bane and Shadow gets a score of 4/5. Real characters and real engagement, a fantastic step up from Book One.
Yours in writing