The act of reading this book irritated me less than The Serpent Bride, though it's difficult to say why. I think part of it is that I'm just used to the capital-letter-in-the-middle names and some of the other worldbuilding nuances that I was just getting adjusted to in the previous volume. (Although, reading back over the review before posting, I don't have anything nice to say...) At least there was only the barest minimum of Coroleas included, I really couldn't take reading about that place in the last one.
By the way, this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS including one that happens near the very end of the book, so if this is a problem for you, stop reading now.
I had mentioned in my review of The Serpent Bride that I thought the characters were quite strong and well done. Not so much, here. Ishbel has gone from being a socially-awkward, passive-aggressive individual to a being a strong, independent woman. While this is a nice change from the previous book, it seems like her change is remarked upon constantly, and that gets a little old. Maxel is also pretty one-sided, Ravenna more one-dimensional than ever (she kills her own mother to try to prevent Ishbel from releasing the Weeper). Armat is also one-sided, and Eleanon and Bingaleal are, as well. StarDrifter retains a bit of complexity -- he harbors some resentment against the Lealfast. BroadWing and Salome are just names on the page (Salome has almost no part in this; BroadWing plays the role of "generic Icarii" and has no personality other than one incident -- not even written about, but only discussed in its aftermath -- where he's not nice to Inardle). Inardle is a bit of a mystery to me, I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. She's a bit like the Salome of the last book.
Probably there should be some discussion of Inardle here, since I baited you with that. Inardle is one of the Lealfast, these half-Icarii/half-Skraeling ethereal winged people. They claim to have loyalty to the Lord of Elcho Falling (Maxel), thinking him to be the only one who can free them from their dual natures. But then they hear about the One (more on him later), and they see Maxel as weak, and they start to plot. They believe the One can give them what Maxel can't, and they leave Inardle in Maxel's camp as a spy. They tell her to become Axis's lover. Axis really does have a thing for her, even after a military disaster wherein many Lealfast are slaughtered (as a ruse to disguise their true military might). She's taken away by one of Armat's men (he was one of Isaiah's generals; he deserted and took a lot of men with him) and raped and beaten. Later we find out she had the power to prevent this. So she knew how to avoid being raped, and didn't try avoid it. Just to keep up the ruse. Even though she's not as sure of the One as her brothers are, since the One is rather anti-female.
I have written about this before, but most fantasy authors can't handle rape. At all. Doesn't matter if the writers are male or female. I believe it is a difficult topic to write about, and since most of us have not suffered this horrific crime, we might not realize what it can do to a person. That's not to say you have to have been raped to write about rape. But please, if you are going to include it, realize that it's serious. Think about what a woman might actually do, how she might actually respond if this happened to her. Even if all you do is watch a couple of episodes of Law & Order Special Victims Unit you will probably have a better understanding than most fantasy authors seem to. I can't think of a single woman who is physically able to avoid rape who will subject herself to the pain and fear and humiliation of it anyway, except under extreme extenuating circumstances. Inardle, and Salome in the last book, just don't make sense to me. At all.
So, the characters were either one-sided or completely baffling and unrealistic. What about the plot? Well, it doesn't get much better. In fact, you can pretty much sum up the book as follows:
- Ravenna tells Maxel to break it off with Ishbel
- He gets angry at Ravenna for saying so
- The Lealfast plot their betrayal of Maxel
- Some stuff goes on in Armat's encampment
- Some stuff goes on in Maxel's encampment
- Isaiah sits (or later, travels) with Skraelings all around but not touching him
- The One (more on him later) does some stuff in the glass pyramid
- Maxel and Ishbel learn more about the Twisted Tower
- Maxel and Ishbel think about getting back together
- Someone talks about how Salome's baby will be born soon, or how pregnant she is, or something like that
- Some rat that was used to torture Josia (the spirit inhabiting the Weeper, a member of the ancient Persimius family that Maxel and Ishbel are also part of) runs about unnoticed by everyone except the author (and I really have no earthly idea where she was going with this rat thing)
- Start back at #1 and repeat 17 more times
Side note: The constant reminders by various characters of the dire consequences if Maxel sleeps with Ishbel again, are about as irritating as all the "Richard and Kahlan must not have a baby" junk from the The Sword of Truth books (although it's nearly everyone who warns Maxel away from Ishbel -- at Ravenna's prompting -- as opposed to just Shota with Richard and Kahlan).
That's my problem with the plot -- some very big things happen in this book, but we spend almost all our time reading about the little stuff. Why not more time on:
- Kanubai is destroyed very early on in the book; he's swallowed up by DarkGlass mountain
- Maxel raises Elcho Falling
- Maxel is disemboweled but Ishbel brings him back to life (not immediately, but within a few hours)
- Actually creating a situation wherein the Lealfast's choice between Maxel and the One is in doubt (you know, not making a snap judgment on something really important)
So why is the One so against Maxel and Ishbel getting back together? Why this effort to prevent it, from Ravenna's visions, to the curse he pronounces, etc. Maxel supposes it's because it somehow makes the One vulnerable if he and Ishbel are married. But the One thinks to himself that in the end, it doesn't matter whether Maxel and Ishbel are united or not. So why sow all these false seeds? To fracture the opposition? Then maybe you really aren't so powerful after all. Honestly, at least as things have been laid out so far, the One is everything that we thought Kanubai would be, so maybe it would've been better to simply keep Kanubai and let him be the evil dude.
I mentioned Elcho Falling has been raised. This place can make itself big enough to hold an army of hundreds of thousands. It's protected from the sort of enemies who try to broach its outward defenses. It can provide food or whatever else is needed. So it really makes no sense that the Persimius family would have ever walked away from all that power. With the One against Elcho Falling, it's perfection against perfection, unrivaled power against unrivaled power, and I can predict the instant in book three when someone finds some tiny little flaw in the One and defeats him with something really simple. Because right now, I just can't see this series ending any other way. (If Douglass did something drastically different from my expectations, well, then good for her. Volume three should arrive in a day or two and I can find out. But I just don't expect it to have anything other than a completely conventional ending.)
Hopefully we won't see Ravenna again; Ishbel finally gets back at her and that's at least a little satisfying as Ravenna is an entirely unlikeable character in this book.
So anyway, this book wasn't so hard to read, apparently, but it wasn't a very good book. There was a lot to criticize and very little to like. This book certainly suffers from the "second-novel-in-a-trilogy" problem, it seems like just a placeholder to get from here to there, with major events at the beginning and the end. I hear Douglass shortened this series to three books because she wanted to finish it before she died, but I wonder if it would've been better off as only two books? Without most of the repetition in The Twisted Citadel.
You might want to read this if you read The Serpent Bride and want to see what happens. Otherwise, don't even bother.