This is the second book in the Bel’s War series and, as such, this review contains mild spoilers for the first book.
With a civil war tearing apart the empire, Rio, Phillip, Turi, and the others follow the empress’ commands to find allies across the country. Clan Ishima has a brutal hold on the kin, and use violence, coercion, and blackmail to force their hand. Empress Sarina is doing her best to not only hold what territory they’ve claimed back, but also to free other kin from Ishima’s tyranny.
The vampires are now knights of Astara, using the goddess’ blessing in order to walk in the light and know their own mind. But even as they fight, darker forces are afoot, turning more kin into the evil night-cursed.
Demari is finally realizing his dream of being on a ship with his brother. But when an attack cripples the ship, Mari and Tanner are separated from the remaining crew. Tanner is a vampire and not a channeler, so when he loses Astara’s light, he goes feral. In order to save him, Mari takes an oath to the goddess Besukama, which changes his relationship with Tanner, connecting them by a soul bond. Mari is now a hali to Besukama, and it changes his path and life forever. But he accepts it readily, in hopes to help defeat the Ishima.
Turi is tasked with a mission by the empress, but his insecurities about his body and life continue to plague him. As such, he pushes Mercy away. But Mercy will not be dissuaded, and even though his heart breaks, he’s there to support Turi. Turi’s powers are growing, his connection to the goddess Mormo getting stronger, and his moral compass grows to match. Reconnecting with Mercy gives Turi even more strength.
And the empress Sarina takes on an impossible task of her own, bowing to her goddess’s wishes. Her newfound role is daunting, and she barely survives to get to this point. But she will do whatever it takes to save her country from the Clan Ishima. Even if it changes her very life.
Battles are won and lost, kin are murdered and changed, and violence abounds. The entire world is in a state of unrest as evil seeks to take hold. But there are those who are fighting for what is right. If only they can make a difference.
The Bel’s War series is epic high fantasy at it’s best, sweeping the reader into a complete different world filled with magic, deities, and a power struggle for the ages. The author does not shy away from the violence and destruction such a civil war produces and, at times, even main characters are subject to this in visceral ways. But Andrews also balances that with sweet or humorous moments that give the reader a much needed breather.
This series is filled with tons of characters, and every part of the LGBTQIA spectrum seems to be represented, which is wonderful to see. There is hatred, of course, and some of it is directed at what people are. But much of it is because of what side the character is fighting for, and in this book in particular, there’s very little homophobia or transphobia. But there are tons of characters, and new ones introduced here. As is usual with a high fantasy novel, POV shifts between multiple “main” characters and the different storylines are dropped and picked up as the narrative requires.
It is a long novel and it is filed with detailed world building, intrigue, and mystery, as well as a lot of violence. But all of that is balanced with character development that makes for an engaging read. Of course, I found myself drawn to certain characters and story developments more than others, but that is par for the course in a novel like this. I will say here, though, that I found some of the narration bogged down in detail that perhaps wasn’t entirely necessary. The pacing in a few parts was off for me, and while part of that can be attributed to wanting to get back to particularly engaging storylines, the rest was simply too much time spent with a plot point that I felt was dragged out for too long.
My biggest issue with the book is the same as it was in the first. There is no naming convention throughout the different cultures and regions, so it’s particularly hard to keep track of people. On top of that, there’s a curious mix of contemporary mixed in. Most of the book is written in the more formal, standard high fantasy tone. But some of the names are much more contemporary, which throws me off every time I see them. There is also dialogue and thoughts that are suddenly contemporary sound, beyond the occasional curse word. One of the goddesses, as well as a couple of the characters, will be speaking in the way of everyone else, and then throw out a much more contemporary phrase like “touch my butt, baby” or calling someone an insult in a way we would hear today. These names and phrases pull me out of the story, as they stand out as other and not fitting in with the story as a whole.
This is a book, and series, that I would recommend to those readers who truly enjoy high fantasy, and all the detail and world building that come with it. It is not to be undertaken lightly, but for those who love that type of story and are looking for LGBTQIA inclusive fantasy, then this one is definitely worth a look.