This is book 2 in the Age of Legends series. Over here, you can read my review of book 1 Sea of Shadows. I knew I would return to this series because I adored the characters, and I’m really glad that I did because what I felt was lacking in book 1 was delivered in spades in book 2!
No blurb this time because it would give away too many spoilers. This is going to be a spoiler-free review as well, so I won’t be discussing too much of the plot. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this book kept me turning pages way past my bed time!
Book 2 picks up almost exactly where book 1 leaves us, weaving recaps of book 1 into the narrative in a way that didn’t feel like a major info dump. While book 1 was mostly about two girls traipsing through the wastes and battling legendary beasties, book 2 dives straight into what I thought was lacking in the first book: political intrigue! Book 2 introduces quite a few new characters which not only adds to the world-building but also forces the characters to grow and change in unexpected ways. Again, the girls are split up by circumstances and must face their own trials and tribulations, but the book never lets you forget that this story is first and foremost about the sister-bond between Moria and Ashyn. There is romance, but it always comes second to the love between the sisters which I found most refreshing.
While I found the world-building a little confusing in the first book, book 2 reveals far more about the cultures and construction of this fantasy world that seems to be a mesh between East and West, with a tendency toward 17th Century Japan although I think Armstrong does well to avoid some of the cliches while still introducing recognizable elements of the culture. There is also mention of foot-binding which was a Chinese practice, but the caste system comes straight out of Edo-era Japan. Coupled with the northern cultures we’ve only begun to get a taste of by book 2, I would say the world in this series isn’t a borrowed version of the ancient East so much as an continental amalgamation which I found really different from the vast majority of Euro-centric fantasy.
While there are no openly LGBT+ characters in the series – yet? – same-sex relationships are mentioned several times and seem to be accepted if not quite the norm. I’m not quite sure how this would work in a society very much concerned with family and lineage, but I hope that Armstrong explores this in the final book.
I cannot talk about the plot without giving away major spoilers. This book is all about the plot! There is substantial character development as well, but what kept me turning the pages was the political intrigue and wondering who the girls could trust, or who might betray them next. What I do absolutely love about this story is that the girls are both strong, independent young women who aren’t strong because they act like men. They are still young girls with a rather narrow if slowly broadening understanding of the world and people who use their significant skills to help themselves and others while not being afraid of asking for and accepting help when needed. Too often, strong female characters are written like male characters as if any show of femininity is somehow a show of weakness, but this is definitely not the case in this novel where the girls can do battle just as easily as they can chat about pretty dresses.
If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the ending was a punch in the gut and is going to make the wait for book 3 a special kind of torment. While book 1 wasn’t my favourite, book 2 was excellent and I strongly recommend giving this series a chance because I’m sure it’s going to finish on a high! 5/5 splats for Empire of Night.