Another book by Alexandra Christo that I found hard to rate. It improved in some aspects from Into the Crooked place, but some aspect were still lacking from which I expected more. I enjoyed it a bit better then the first book, so I’ll give it 3.5 stars.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first book, Into the Crooked Place.
While Into the Crooked Place had its flaws, the ending still made me really intrigued for the sequel. City of Spells follows our crooks after their failure to bring the Kingpin down. The Kingpin’s Loj elixir is taking over Creije and Wesley is now captured by Zekia and the Kingpin. The others have to go into hiding to reform their troops and strengthen their forces. All in hopes to destroy the Kingpin once and for all. Tavia is stepping in as the leader and is trying to get more troops and together with Karam, she is training the buskers and crafters to be at their best for when the battle starts.
“Everyone was innocent in war, doing whatever they thought was best, even if it was convoluted and evil to everyone else. No soldier set out to be the bad guy. Every villain was the hero of their own story. War was built on innocence corrupted and lost. That was the thing battle stole from people, before it took their souls.”
The flaws from Into the Crooked place were still there, but they did feel a bit muted in this book, so that definitely improved my reading experience, but I’m still having a hard time rating it, just as with book one. The magic system is still very soft. It just is and there isn’t much explanation about the rules or how things work exactly. I still don’t know how the spells are made for example. There also don’t seem to be any consequences to it. They just have an endless supply of power with endless possibilities and that just doesn’t sit right with me. I like it when things are a bit more high stakes.
There was a different map in this second book which I was really happy about. The story took us to some new places that were very well and beautifully described so I was able to picture them vividly, but overall the writing was just straight to the point. It made it easy to read, but hard to find any quotes that I really loved. The story had a pretty slow pacing at the beginning with everyone just sitting around at their new camp, but luckily some of the characters then went on their own adventures and that was a good change in the pacing with their paths separating and then coming together again in different ways. From the halfway point onwards the pacing picked up and it stayed on point right until the end.
Throughout this second book, the characters showed a lot more development and we also got to see Zekia’s pov all throughout the story. I still didn’t fully grasp her motivations though, even when the story was over. I get that she had a tough life with all these expectations on her, but I still didn’t found it believable that she would be ok with this much violence. Tavia is probably the bravest character of them all (because of spoilers that I’m not going to mention). There was a lot more backstory on Wesley, which was interesting. It was so sad to see Wesley struggling with his guilt and regrets and wanting to make things right even though I don’t feel like Zekia deserves it. Saxony’s past got explored more and it was good to see her interactions with her family that made her into the person she now is. I loved how all of these characters come together and thought it was a nice implementation of the found family trope.
The story dived a lot more into how the characters are feeling about and dealing with their current situations. Some of them are stepping up to take on responsibility and be leaders and we see the challenges and mental difficulties that come with being a leader and having people looking up at you like you have all the answers, which I found really interesting.
There finally was some backstory on the villain, which was interesting, but felt a bit late and not extensive enough. I would love to have seen more of how Ashwood developed into the magic-filled person he now is. I do still have a few questions about some of the characters’ heritage. That is something I thought would be addressed in this final book, but it didn’t and that left me kind of disappointed since I thought there were some interesting ways that things could turn out.
So overall I thought this book was better than the first one because of the character development and the exploration of more of this world, but some aspects, like the magic system, still felt lacking. Give this series a try if you enjoy the found family trope, but be aware of the content warnings, including violence, killing and quite graphic scenes.