Stars: 5 out of 5.
The first book in the duology ended in a rather heartbreaking manner with Elspeth losing her soul and her body to the Nightmare. The King and the Maiden effectively became the Monster. This book picks up almost immediately after that fateful night with Elspeth in shackles and in the dungeons of Castle Stone, and Ravyn Yew reeling from what happened to the woman he loved. The monster and the captain of the Destriers will have to collaborate in order to find the Twin Alders card and lift the curse of Blunder once and for all.
Elspeth takes the backseat in this story, with the Shepherd King coming to the forefront and inhabiting her body for most of the book. And let me tell you that he grows on you the more you discover about his past and what happened 500 years ago when the cards were made and mists came to plague the kingdom of Blunder. It’s a classical story of how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and how by giving too much of himself to his unhealthy obsession, the Shepherd King lost everything that he should have held dear – his family, his kingdom, and his life.
I loved his interactions with Ravyn, who is devastated because he thinks the woman he loves is lost forever, and he hates the monster that is looking out of her eyes now, yet he needs that monster in order to defeat a bigger treat to his kingdom and his family – the current Rowan King. That made for some entertaining banter between him and the Nightmare, as well as some pretty heartfelt interactions further in the book.
Two other characters from the previous book come to the forefront of the narrative in this one – Prince Renelm (or Elm), and Ione. And I was honestly surprised just how much I liked their story. I liked Elm from the previous book, but Ione had seemed a bit standoffish and “frozen” for most of the last book, because she was under the influence of the Maiden card. Well, we discover in this book that it wasn’t her choice or her doing, and the things she had been put through are frankly horrifying. I was really happy that Hauth got what was coming to him.
All in all, I really loved this world and the story, even though I thought that the ending wrapped everything a little bit too neatly. But that is just a small gripe and I would highly recommend this book.
PS: I received and advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.