Oh, that difficult second book of the series. The first is always full of surprises, every quirk of the author’s created world new and fresh. The final part is the big battle where evil is defeated, all the wrongs are set right and everything ends on a happy note. And then there are those middle books (this is the second in a planned five-book series). It’s very easy to drop the ball at this point, but here the author distracts with plenty of action and a whole heap of mysteries. Where are these precious sapwood seeds that both sides want so badly? Who is the traitor in the clan that’s supposed to be protecting them? And most of all, who can be trusted and who’s following their own agenda?
The most delightful aspect of this series, for me, is the concept of place magic, something that our heroine, Verity, has been using in a small way all her life, but began to realise in the first book of the series, Grim Haven, was far more powerful than she’d realised. I loved the way she protected herself and those around her by writing little magical notes stating that nothing will happen, everything will be fine, no one gets hurt. And she found an ingenious way to protect the whole of the hotel she’d inherited. But now she has to step up and find even more powerful ways to develop her magic, and this whole book is a series of lurches and missteps in that direction. The author makes it a real struggle for her to progress and that felt very realistic.
As for the characters, Verity’s a truly likable heroine, not in any way the typical kick ass female so beloved of this genre, although she’s obviously incredibly powerful in her own way. She feels, mostly, like a regular person doing the best she can, facing up to the inevitable but cleverly and never, ever giving up. New introduction Arabella is far more the conventional kick ass type, and gorgeous with it. Cue all sorts of female uncertainties, because there’s also Cooper, Verity’s boyfriend. I really liked Cooper in book 1. This book? Not quite so much. There was far too much all-round grumpiness for my liking, and not enough be-nice-to-Verity moments. Come on, Cooper, appreciate her a little more openly, please. We readers want a good quota of heartwarming lovey-doviness.
The plot — well, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Our heroes step up to the plate and try to do what needs to be done without getting killed. Or worse. There are some pretty horrifying moments in this book, so the overall tone is kind of downbeat at times. Still, there are some delicious punch-the-air moments, too, unexpected outbreaks of humour and the setpiece battles are very well done. Overall, I found it a somewhat darker book than the last one, but the battle for the sapwood seeds is building up nicely. Looking forward to the next installment. Four stars.