Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Reign of Mist

The realm’s darkest secret is out. 

The cruelty of the capital and the power-hungry King Arden have scattered Bleak and her companions across the continents.

On the run in a foreign land, Bleak finds herself tied to some unexpected strangers. When the answers she yearns for are finally within reach, she must face the hard truths of her past, and take her fate into her own hands before it’s too late.

Meanwhile, secrets and magic unravel as a dark power corrupts the realm. Bleak’s friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie, and who, if anyone, they can trust.

But one thing is certain: war is coming, and they must all be ready when it does.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read a lot of YA fantasy debuts last year, but Heart of Mist was easily one of the best. Would Reign of Mist live up to its predecessor? Or would it suffer the dreaded sophomore slump? Reign doesn’t meet the high bar set by Heart, it hurtles over it with room to spare. It has everything I want in a book. I like believably-written, badass female characters, I like despicable villains (don't try to change me), I like political intrigue and natural world-building, and this book has all of those things turned up to 11.

After the events of the last book, Bleak and her allies are scattered. Hanging plot threads need to be tied up and new ones woven in, all the while establishing history, powers and alliances that would rival an episode of Game of Thrones. Helen Scheurer weaves together multiple povs and casts her storytelling net wide, bringing together characters and history from all over the realm. Just like Heart of Mist, she gets the showing and telling balance absolutely perfect. With new characters introduced, history to be revealed and secrets brought to light, a less skilled author might have resorted to pages of exposition or characters sat around reciting the plot, but not so here. I couldn’t even pinpoint where I found out about certain characters or events. They were woven so naturally into the story that when they became relevant to the plot, I already knew everything I needed to without the action screeching to a halt so one of the characters could exposit key informaton. The best books do this, and Reign of Mist does it well.

Henri, my favourite character from book one, gets an even meatier role this time around. She’s a total badass, complete with leathers and knives, but the vulnerable side we saw glimpses of in the last book comes to the fore. I’ll keep this review spoiler free but suffice to say we see plenty of emotion alongside the bloodletting. In a book of so many fierce women it would have been easy for some of them to read like clones of each other, but everyone had their own voice. Each character was clearly shaped by their past and it showed in every line of dialogue.

Bleak’s path in the story may be a tad predictable, but the author still manages to put a different spin on it thanks to the unique structure of Oremere’s rulers. Her battle with her addiction to alcohol was one of the best parts of the last book. Not because I particularly like reading character’s suffering, but because it was a refreshingly honest look at the harsh and unpretty reality of drinking yourself into oblivion on a daily basis. 
It would be easy for this plot point to have been discarded after it served its purpose in HoM, but that doesn’t happen here. I loved Bleak’s character development and how she fought tooth and nail to stay alive even when she’d been absolutely battered. Her "will they, won't they" relationship with Bren was superbly handled too. One of the things I love most about Helen Scheurer's stories is that she puts a fresh spin on all the YA tropes she uses and Bleak's complicated back and forth with her salt-of-the-earth childhood friend is no exception. I'll admit, I wasn't sold on these two in book one, but the way they work out in this book is note perfect. Believable and bittersweet.

As with any book that deals in multiple povs, there were a couple I found less than enthralling. Captain Swinton’s were easily my least favourite. Perhaps because the character is such an uptight buzzkill I didn’t find much to enjoy in his chapters outside of the plot developments. Although his chapters did give a glimpse of the adorable couple Olena and Nazuri. Theirs may have been a political match rather than a romantic one, but they were a pairing to rival even my OTP of this series, Henri and Athene.

I won’t spoil the ending except for to say; really Helen Scherer? You’re going to leave me like this?! HoM ended on one hell of a cliff hanger and after some breakneck-paced chapters, RoM does the same thing. That ending though! Just like last time, there are new players in the game, new threats and whole new worlds that need to be explored. And, just like last time, I have to wait for them!

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