This was far more horrible than I expected.
Ryko straightened, meeting my order. “Thirty-six villagers were killed. Nearly eighty were hurt.”
He bowed his head. “To save me.”
My throat was dry again. “Thirty-six?”
So many people dead because I could not control my power. Because I had recklessly called my
dragon, although I knew I did not have the skill.
“May the gods forgive me,” I whispered. Yet even if they did, how could I forgive myself?
This sets what will be the tone for the book: lots of people die while the major characters survive (sometimes so the major characters will survive), and everyone bitches about it but only so the main character can angst about how sad and sorry she is.
Everyone is an asshole, which makes it increasingly confusing why anyone’s serving the “true emperor”, who incidentally, upon being told his family was killed, went insane and murdered a bunch of his own people and then random innocents in his path and needs Eona to break him out of his fit. I don’t care if he didn’t mean to, that is not a man that should have any power whatsoever. He shouldn’t even be allowed near sharp things! He should not be allowed outside at all! He belongs behind a very high wall and escorted at all times by at least two orderlies. And when he’s not mowing down the fools who support him as the rightful king, he seems about as cruel as the usurper, with the only major difference that he’s such an idiot he needs Eona to constantly talk him out of things, which always triggers another tantrum. Then later on she stops even being able to do that much. Given the whole divine emperor thing everyone believes, it’s understandable he’d be such a monster and his people would be unable to defend themselves from his viciouosness, but that doesn’t change that I find it really, really hard to care about the fight between him and the marginally more evil “usurpers” (who have to be so cartoonishly insane evil to manage that), especially when we add in a love triangle for him to be a jealous, vengeful bastard about.
Oh, right, there’s a love triangle. The other member is the rat dragoneye, who you may recall from last book as the guy who attempted to rape Eona multiple times. She magicked him into a semi-decent individual in the final confrontation last book because author said so, but it’s been undone by the time they find him again in this book, and the “romance” fuckery proceeds from that point. The book constantly tries to present them as not so different and how she’s attracted to the power blah blah HE TRIED TO RAPE HER MULTIPLE TIMES LAST BOOK WHY THE FUCK IS THIS HAPPENING STOP IT.
Eona herself is also a lot more terrible than she was last book, although it barely registers compared to how horrible the others are. It’s believable she’d suffer this sort of moral slide given she’s surrounded by what amount to demonic entities she and the book have mistaken for people, but that doesn’t make her sympathetic or cause me to care about if she’ll accomplish her goals. The most I can say for her is that I didn’t feel it would fundamentally improve the world if she died, unlike the characters whose goals she’s trying to fulfill, but that still doesn’t solve the problem that I am not at all invested in which asshole’s goals get fulfilled.
The book also continues to have the weirdest moments of progressiveness. This time Eona heals her crippled friend without asking and he’s unhappy because social model of disability and bodily autonomy are obviously things that matter to a slave who couldn’t even talk coherently before this. I’m assuming someone complained about Eona’s healing and the author’s trying to make up for it, but for one thing he was far worse off physically and for another even if he’d been in a similar position to Eona’s that doesn’t mean either of them should actually hold those beliefs in a world where people won’t even touch you because your injury means you’re ritually unclean. Even if social conditioning wasn’t enough to change how he felt personally, which is a big enough stretch as it is, it’s absurd he’d be able to express that, let alone to someone who’s so far his social superior she could kill him at her whim and who he just watched force someone else to cook his own arms.
Meanwhile, the trans woman has to spend half the book pretending to be a guy again as a disguise. Also, as you may be gathering, everyone uses torture as the solution to any and all problems. Seriously, the book is a mess. Eona at least disapproves of the times she’s ordered to torture, but it’s just on the moment to moment level of not wanting to. The question of why the fuck she’s supporting these assholes goes unexamined. I can only assume the author was trying to be all realistic about the fact people in the past with power are all horrible, but that’s only readable when it’s a book that’s written as if the people without power have equal moral weight, while this narrative is happy to embrace the idea only some people matter. The entire book was just horrible, horrible people jostling over which of them became supreme ruler to fuck over everyone else for the rest of their life, while Eona tried to help them or angsted about not being sure if she wanted to help them or was forced to help them – and I don’t mean one of those options per person, she goes through all of three responses with both sides of the why the fuck is this happening love triangle AND at least one other character and I may be forgetting more because it’s all a blur of awfulness. The villain has to totally possess Eona just to register as marginally more controlling than every other fucking character.
Then finally at the climatic ending, Asshole True King gets mortally injured, magically healed by Eona, mortally injured again literally seconds later, Eona has to pick between saving him or the dragons and picks the dragons, and then the dragons heal the fucker again anyway. Admittedly, this is Asshole True King so his survival is a loss for everyone objectively, but as far as Eona’s concerned, she sacrifices nothing twice over.