I have not read the first book in this series, as I randomly picked this book up in a bookstore in Bern, Switzerland. There was a limited English Language section and I swear, all the fucking science fiction and fantasy books were written by dudes. So I basically bought this one out of spite.
Also, holy shit, pretty cover, right?
Anyway, I didn’t really need to read that book because it feels like this one was completely different and centred on different characters. Having no reference, there were clearly call backs to the previous book and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from enjoying this book. Potentially only missing a scumbag brother and given how often the the main character complained about him in this book, I’m not that upset about skipping ahead.
And it was enjoyable, if utterly cotton candy-ish. It’s very boy meets girl, boy is supposed to sentence girl to death, instead boy and girl compete in a tournament in a magical kingdom. Right, simple.
I think the thing that seemed most unrealistic about the book is that the main characters Gauri and Vikram are supposed to be only eighteen years old. And aside from being completely dumbasses for each other, they seem much older than that. Gauri is supposed to be a general and generally she has been kicking the shit out of lots of people. They are very intelligent and relentlessly focussed on doing the best for the respective kingdoms. So…they basically don’t come across as bloody teenagers.
The plot is also a bit gossamer at times, there is nothing grounding the story in any meaningful sense. Stuff just happens, randomly. The tournament they’re competing is haphazard and makes no sense. Fine, you could argue that its a magical kingdom but at times there’s just so much randomness happening that you almost get bored of it.
However, there is a lovely, magical quality to the characters. From the caustic but inevitably romantic interactions between the two main characters to the delightful Aasha. There is a loveliness to the characters and also the descriptions of the world you find yourself in. It would be a really wonderful book if the plot had a bit more depth (honestly, probably a lot more depth). There is some relentless harkening back to Vikram and Gauri’s central problems to the point where I was like, okay, fine, I get it.
So, basically. Have a go if you’re looking for a marshmallow fluff of a read. But if you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, you may want to lay your eyeballs on something with a bit more heft.
There is also the huge problem of just randomly mentioning harems all the time (usually with part happy remembrance with only a tiny bit of , well, they really didn’t want to be there.) The main character, Gauri, is a super tough and independent woman (being a princess is probably useful to have that freedom). She’s a skilled fighter and clearly takes absolutely no shit. However, a lot of other women don’t tend to have as much agency. There’s the whole harem part, the causal mentions of women being assaulted or worse, and generally other women being discarded (Vikram’s mother for one). So on that scale, it’s really quite disappointing. More so because of the causal nature of it. I mean, fine, you want an empowered main character but your world is still a bit shit for all other women. There are lots of women in the book though. And some of them are given agency and their choices mean something. But its just the scaffolding that tarnishes a bit for me.
Anyway. Problems. Fluffy. Not sure I’ll pick up any more in the series. Cover is still pretty though.