I really enjoyed the first book in this series by Sara Wolf, so I was anxiously awaiting the release of the sequel. Alas, I’ve been so busy lately, I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it, so I opted for the audiobook.
Em Eldridge narrates the audiobook and I wasn’t super impressed with her performance. She had a way of ending sentences with a upward lilt to her tone, making it sound like a question when it wasn’t a question.
Perhaps she can be forgiven, because Wolf does have her main character ask herself a whole lot of questions throughout the course of the book and it is kind of annoying. A significant part of the plot has a kind of mystery element to it and Wolf’s way of dealing with it is to show the reader all the internal questions that are running through the main character’s head.
The problem with that is that it ends up kind of boring for the reader because they’re either wondering the same things, or they’ve figured them out already and are ready for the plot to move forward. Either way the endless questioning is pointless and it slows down the narrative. I don’t know if I noticed it more in this book because I was listening to it on audio, or if I just forgot about that quirk of hers in the first book, but that was really my only quibble with Wolf’s writing. For the most part, I really enjoyed this sequel.
So, when we last left our plucky heroes they had just discovered that Princess Varia was still alive and not brutally murdered by a bunch of Heartless as previously supposed.
I had already figured out that she was not dead, given that they had only ever found a leg and an arm, but my theory was that she had been turned into a Heartless herself.
Better than that, she had anticipated Gavik’s attempts to get rid of her, had faked her own death and used magic to replace the limbs she sacrificed to make everyone think she was dead. She also killed all her own guards to make it look convincing, so it turns out she’s far from the innocent little girl we had been led to think she was. She’s been living with witches in the woods for the past five years learning everything she can about witchcraft. She has been perfectly aware of her brother’s attempts to find her each year, but it wasn’t until Zera showed up and killed Gavik and all his guards that Varia reveals herself. Varia also turns Gavik into a Heartless, then asks Zera who she “belongs to” and Zera tells her.
Zera then passes out because it’s been a REALLY long day. When she wakes up she’s chained to a couch in the princess’ chambers. She’s also fully healed from all her wounds, which were pretty extensive, so she figures she must have been unconscious for a few days at least, given how far she is from her witch.
Varia laughs, realizing that Zera had never been told never to tell another witch the name of her witch because the new witch can use that sound to cast a spell and steal the Heartless away. So, Zera now belongs to Varia and Varia has a task for her.
Varia saw Zera Weeping in the woods when she saved Lucien. Because Weeping was something used by Heartless during the war, there aren’t any Heartless left who remember how to Weep. Zera just happened to learn about it from someone who had been Heartless during the war, but had since had their heart (and hence their humanity) returned to them.
Varia is determined to put a stop to the war between the humans and the witches once and for all. To do that, she needs the Bone Tree, and to get to the Bone Tree, she needs a blood promise from a valkerax. Valkerax are giant, fire-breathing worms that used to live above ground, but have since been banished to underground tunnels, where magic runes created by Beneathers keep them underground.
Varia needs to drink the blood of a valkerax in order to access their memories about where the Bone Tree is. The Bone Tree is especially tricky because it tends to move around, so you can’t just ask a valkerax where the Bone Tree is, because that information could change.
But Varia can’t just take blood from a valkerax because that would be too easy. A blood promise must be given freely and willingly, which requires the valkerax to Weep. Nothing to do with Weeping can be commanded, which makes sense, since that’s the definition of Weeping. As a result, Varia cannot command Zera to teach the valkerax to Weep, despite having Zera’s heart. So she has to bribe Zera with the promise of returning her heart once she’s taught a valkerax to weep.
So Zera heads underground on the regular to teach a valkerax how to Weep.
In the meantime, things between Zera, Lucien, and Fione are shaky at best. At first, Lucien tries to convince himself that he never felt anything more than pity for Zera, but come on! We all know that’s not true.
Fione is deathly terrified of Heartless because her parents were killed by Heartless during the war. Fione and Varia have a thing for each other and Varia (supposedly for Fione’s peace of mind) commands Zera to find a secluded place and stab herself with something sharp three times in the stomach if she ever touches Fione. Then she commands Zera to touch Fione, just to prove it works. Fione is more distressed than comforted by this, but Varia shrugs it off, clearly regardless of Zera’s pain.
Zera also runs into Gavik in the streets a few times. Apparently Varia has commanded him to spend his days giving bread to the needy and to avoid Fione at all costs because Fione never sees him and he’s always giving out bread when Zera sees him. It’s clearly meant to be a punishment for the evil he did as a human, but since Heartless can’t remember anything they did as humans, Gavik has no idea what he’s being punished for. Zera says he still deserves it, but if he doesn’t know what he’s being punished for, what’s the point?
Anyway, he can’t remember much, but he has an urge to write, thereby convincing him he must have kept a diary, and he urges Zera to find that diary for him so they can find out what Zera is up to. That’s how Gavik discovers that, through the Bone Tree, Varia will be able to command all the valkerax in the world, which is pretty much the equivalent of being the only country with nuclear weapons.
Gavik and Zera both agree that Varia isn’t ready for so much power – that no one is ready for that much power – and that the Bone Tree will feed on Varia’s magic until she dies, so by helping Varia find the Bone Tree, Zera is essentially helping her to commit suicide. But her heart…
So she continues teaching the valkerax to Weep, but the valkerax refuses to give Varia the blood promise. Instead, it gives it to Zera, which means Varia needs her in order to find the Bone Tree, which of course means she can’t have her heart back yet (you saw that coming, right?)
Meanwhile, some powerful, but still largely untrained witch is creating havoc in the city Vetris, causing earthquakes that allow the valkerax to escape (they manage to recapture it) and starting a blaze of witchfire in the city. It was pretty obvious that Lucien was this new, untrained witch, but our girl Zera is too blinded by love to see it.
The book ends with Fione, Lucien, and his bodyguard, Malachite, following Zera and Varia to the Bone Tree. Fione and Lucien try to talk Varia out of it, and Lucien even threatens to make Fione into a Heartless, but Varia is adamant that she knows best. She and Lucien fight it out, but she wins, makes it to the Bone Tree, whereupon a whole bunch of valkerax start coming up out of the ground.
The End … for now.
What did you read/listen to this week? Any other sequels you were looking forward to?