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If you're here reading reviews, you may have seen the review I typed up for book one in this series, which was an exercise in contradiction; I both loved it and hated it and I practically spontaneously combusted from the mental friction created trying to reconcile all my feelings about it into one (ostensibly) coherent review. Fortunately, book two here doesn't inspire quite that same level of emotion or ambivalence, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the story in a way that my preconceived notions prevented with book one.
Part of me wonders if typing this up is even worth the time; either you read Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood Book 1) already - which would be the primary driver in deciding whether you're going to continue the series - or you haven't, in which case you'll realize this isn't the first book and you'll amble over to the series beginning. Nevertheless, for those few undecided folks, here are my (spoiler-free, except in the most general ways) thoughts on this second volume.
The point of view switches (or, more accurately, the lack of point of view switches) that so baffled me in POTB1 are back. Probably partly because I was expecting it and partly because of differences in the story line, I didn't find it quite as jarring this time around. Here, part one - roughly half the book - is from one character's POV, and part two is from another's. I could actually appreciate the time spent with Hakon in part two since he was portrayed as such a [redacted] in the beginning; we needed to hang out with him and see through his eyes to witness his humanity. However, it makes the ending of the book kind of a disappointment.
See, this is more of a prequel than a sequel; this book is the beginning of one of the relationships we were introduced to in POTB1. The problem is that in POTB1, a major plot event was described (in a "you need to know that this happened in past so you're aware of this history of these two characters" sort of way), and in those initial history lessons, the reactions of the king and the princes of the blood were described, and the credibility of the character involved was called into question, and it was made to sound like a real dramatic climax involving a heroic rescue against all odds.
So what does Derr do? She doesn't switch back to the character who's trying to get everyone to believe him and mount a rescue mission when all this is going on. We got the bare bones in book one, so I suppose we didn't NEED to see all the tension and derring-do to know what was going on, but come on. You don't make something sound like a terrific story that maybe you'd like to hear in detail someday and then tell it from the POV of the person who has no idea what all went on behind the scenes. You just don't. Which isn't to say that the other side of the story wasn't also thrilling in its own way, but good grief - had Derr just switched back and forth every chapter or two like normal people do so that the whole story alternates between the two characters, we could have had all of it.
So that bugged me. Another possible negative is how the romance arc, and the story in general, are rather more predictable than they were in book one. I say "story in general" because this is a prequel and we already heard parts of it (and we know who's still alive, etc.), and the romance in particular because the plot devices and tropes used here popular ones. I knew in the first couple pages who was going to be getting married to whom, what some of the problems would be, and how it'd turn out. I say "possible negative" since predictability certainly doesn't bother everyone, but...there really were no surprises here.
I'd also characterize the romance as a bit abrupt. It's hard to describe and stay free of spoilers, but...the feelings between the main characters changed or evolved perhaps unnaturally quickly. Derr did it as deftly as she could, I think, given the pacing, but that doesn't mean I didn't raise my eyebrow at the ending.
Like most of my reviews, I elaborate a lot on the ways I think the story fell short or could have been improved, but that shouldn't be taken to mean I didn't like what I read. And there's plenty of greatness here. To continue with the comparisons, I was furious at the scope and pacing of POTB1. It had the scope of a five-volume epic, and the pacing had to be at warp speed to keep the story down to regular-novel size. The scope of this one is much more realistic. Derr doesn't try to pack an entire trilogy of 700-page books into 250 pages - this book's story is suited to its length, and moves along at a far more appropriate pace. That was a relief.
The writing itself, the use of language, remains as excellent as I've come to expect from this author. I may be disappointed at times in the choices she makes, but I will never be disappointed in her ability to string words together.
And maybe most importantly, aside from quibbles about technique and apt characterizations, I really liked this book. A lot. I liked the characters, I liked the magic, I loved the setting... It's exciting and immersive and I ate it right up. Perfect it was not, but if you're a fan of fantasy, or m/m romance, or just a really good tale, I suggest you give it a try. (After you finish book one, of course.)