So I’m playing a bit of catch-up with my reviews for this book, having missed last week thanks to a worrying slump in my motivation for… well, everything. But things are a little better now, so I’m making the most of it. And so here we are. Let’s do this!
Previously, Rhy was preparing for the Essen Tasch and musing on what it means to be a king, and on the kind of king he wants to be. As a result I am rapidly filling up with feelings for him.
It’s really interesting to see Rhy’s character being explored in these ways. I really appreciate the fact that none of the consequences of what happened to him, as well as to Kell, in ADSOM are being downplayed. Instead, we get to see Rhy brought forth as a player in this game (pun totally intended) in his own right. We’re also shown that he’s nowhere near being just an easily amused playboy prince taking his life for granted. Rhy is struggling with the fallout from what Kell did to save him, and he’s doing it while trying to prepare himself to be a good ruler. Rhy has a desire for that power, but it seems to be stemming from his understandably insecure need to be strong. Kell is the magical powerhouse; Rhy is the one who has, or will have, political power, and he needs to figure out how best to use it.
My take from this focus on Rhy’s perspective is that he might be on the edge of the kind of hugely important personal decision that will either lead to him getting this right, or getting it disastrously wrong – and it’s the kind of decision that can be nudged either way by Dramatic Events, so the fact that he’s organising a hugely popular, and hugely important, international competition right now is definitely relevant…
And in a very fascinating counterpoint to Rhy’s situation, we have Holland. We learn that not only did Holland not die at Kell’s hands after all, but he landed in Black London somehow – and that while he was there, he discovered an equally not-quite-so-dead king, lying in wait for the chance to seize power and return to the world(s). Long story short, Holland has basically handed him that power in the form of his own emo power-hungry puppet self.
I should be exasperated by Holland, and in a way I am. My tolerance for self-serving characters is normally very low (see Temeraire…) but in Holland’s case, I’m more sympathetic. I don’t feel like I fully understand him, or that we’ve seen every side of him yet, for one thing – and it’s made clear in this part of the book that his ambitions are perhaps not being pursued for their own sake. Holland has always wanted power, but in an interesting flip side to the Rhy Maresh coin, he seems to have wanted it because he used to have none. And that was before he was enslaved by the Danes. Growing up in White London cannot have been easy; it’s easy to understand why, when given even half a chance (ie. coming into his Antari magic), Holland would have leaped at the chance to improve his lot, however questionable the means and however dangerous the source. He and Rhy have a sort of shared insecurity here, however different their personal circumstances are. Rhy wants to be a good king. Holland never wants to be the victim of one again – and let’s not forget that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are always relative. No villain ever thinks of himself as the bad guy; Holland is doing what he feels he needs to do to stay alive.
Literally – how else was he supposed to find his way back out of Black London when he ended up there? He was damn near mortally wounded, and the doors between the worlds had evidently been locked again.
Oh, and the chance to be what he’s always wanted to be was laid on a plate and basically waved under his nose. Of course he was going to accept the creepy ghost-King’s offer.
But what now? We’ve got the background information and the setup is established; there’s even a perfect opportunity right around the corner for Holland to come back from the dead in gloriously dramatic fashion … But for what? Is White London enough for him, or does he plan to take revenge for what Kell did to him? And if so, how is he going to do it?
Part of me is dreading any revenge-taking, but I have to confess: part of me is all a-squee at the thought of the opportunity here for a dramatic entrance. I mean, come on. It would be full on evil wizard here to curse your whole family DRAMATIC. It would be Maleficent levels of dramatic, and I want it very badly.
But more than I want that, what I absolutely cannot wait for is the reveal of just what, precisely, Alucard Emery did to end up in prison and make the Maresh brothers hate him.
We find out in this segment that not only is he royalty (with a title and a House and a hateful brother), but that he’s known or at least strongly suspected the entire time that Lila was not from his London at all.
The chemistry between these two, while not precisely romantic, is all kinds of fascinating, and I am so here for it. It kind of saddens me to think that it might be nipping the Lila-Kell potential romance in the bud, but I’m holding onto hope. I mean, they still haven’t quite crossed paths again yet…
Speaking of that, it is also looking very likely to be a dramatic event – especially now that Lila’s gone and stolen herself a place in the Games. Because what better way to challenge her newly magical self and find adventure and I’m sure absolutely nothing at all can go wrong with this HALF BAKED PLAN LILA WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING.
Sabotaging her friendship with Emery is what she’s doing, because our so charming Captain is not an idiot and catches her in the act of literally removing a competitor so she can steal his identity and take his place. He ends up helping her do it, with the implacable warning that if she gets caught (and it’s likely she will), he will have nothing more to do with her and she’ll be on her own in suffering the consequences.
This is killing me, because I absolutely don’t blame him – I’ve said before that Lila needs to introduce herself to some actual serious consequences for once in her life, and part of me hopes that this latest stunt of hers will be the thing that does it. On the other hand, damn it Lila, Emery was your friend. And he was a good one! Or he could have been. But to hell with that, because Lila Bard doesn’t need friends when she can have adventures, right?
For all my frustration with her, though… I do still like her. Well, maybe ‘appreciate’ is a better word. I appreciate how complex she is, and in a story where she’s the only prominent female character among several very interesting and variously powerful male characters, she is absolutely holding her own. There have been a few eyeroll moments along the way, including the use of the old “I’m not like other girls” line, and employing the threat of sexual violence to highlight her physical capability. These are very tired tricks, and I’d sooner not see them used – especially not to highlight something that already obvious to me. But all in all, I am here for Lila Bard’s adventures, but I’m also here for her character development, and my hopes for that are high because the potential is high.
And she gives good drama along the way. Sweet teacups, does she ever.
Let the Games begin.