Review: No Safe Haven by James Lloyd Dulin

“When blood is owed, virtues will be challenged.”

No Safe Haven is book 2 in the Malitu series and takes this story to a whole new level of brilliance. Seriously, if you thought No Heart for a Thief was a good book, then you better prepare to be totally swept off your feet by this sequel. It’s bold, it’s angry, it’s raw, it’s painful, it’s brutal, it’s emotional, and most importantly of all, it’s a damn masterpiece.

The story picks up only a couple of days after the brutal ending of No Heart for a Thief, and the author does a brilliant job of gracefully easing the reader back into this world and the story.
We are reunited with Kaylo and Tayen as they continue their unrelenting fight for survival, while also diving deeper into Kaylo’s past to explore how he has become known as the legendary Hero of Anilace. Once again, the narrative smoothly switches back and forth between ‘Current Day Ennea’ and ‘Kaylo’s Story’, resulting in another masterfully crafted dual timeline story that keeps you emotionally engaged from start to finish.

“After all the lessons grief had taught him, he made the stupid decision to care again.”

Compared to book 1, I personally felt like the balance between the past and the present timeline was more even here, which really allowed me to establish that deep emotional investment in both storylines that I was so craving.
I already felt for these characters when I was reading No Heart for a Thief, but this time around it would be more accurate to say that I lived and breathed them with every fibre of my being. There were maybe only one or two side characters in Kaylo’s backstory that felt a tiny bit underdeveloped, but aside from that the entire vibrant and diverse cast of characters just leapt off the page with personality.
Dulin truly has an unmatched gift for creating frustratingly flawed yet beautifully human characters who you just can’t help but root for, and I loved every single second of following their messy journeys.

As Kaylo continues to tell his life story as a sort of cautionary tale to Tayen, she stubbornly keeps barreling down a path of vengeance and (self-)destruction. It becomes even more clear that the young Kaylo and young Tayen are on eerily similar paths, which makes the dual timeline narrative even more powerful than in the first book.
I loved seeing the parallels between these young and troubled characters, with them both essentially being rage incarnate, but also really appreciated that their stories never become interchangeable. They have such distinct personalities and both have their own inner demons to fight, which makes them such realistic, relatable, and lovable characters.

“Tayen existed outside of Kaylo’s shadow, and everyone would know it.”

Tayen’s obstinate attitude can be frustrating to read about, though, and it definitely causes some inevitable friction and tension between her and Kaylo. Yet at the same time, it is clear that their love for each other runs deeper than ever before, even if they aren’t willing to admit it to themselves or each other. What started out as a reluctant and tentative mentor/mentee dynamic has now blossomed into a beautiful yet very complicated father/daughter bond, and I absolutely loved watching that natural development.

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that we have a new POV character, Nix, in the present timeline, and I enjoyed her presence immensely. Not only because she brings a new and exciting perspective to the story, but also because her wicked wit and dry humour provided some much-welcomed levity amidst all the chaos and heartbreak. 
And even though she is just as flawed as the two messy main protagonists, I also really appreciated that she was able to act as a voice of reason for both Kaylo and Tayen, pointing out exactly my thoughts about their frustrating thickheadedness. 

Now, it would be easy to say that hate, fear and vengeance are the main driving forces behind everyone’s actions here, but I would argue that love might be the strongest motivator for them all. After all, the line between love and hate is dangerously thin, and nothing hurts more than losing loved ones or being betrayed by those you thought you could trust.

““The point is, anger can be selfish, or it can be righteous,” she said. “It cannot be both. You’ll have to choose your path.””

And that notion is only amplified when combined with the prominent themes of (anti-)colonialism, war, occupation, indoctrination, exploitation, and morality, which are once again expertly woven into the narrative and handled with just as much sensitivity as they should.
As we explore a new part of the world and encounter a new faction in this war, it becomes all the more clear just how nuanced this conflict actually is.

Yes, the Gousht Empire is inarguably the main force of evil in this story, but we also discover that there are more factions within Ennea that have committed equally horrible acts under the guise of self-preservation. None of the factions in this conflict are proven to be monoliths and some of the antagonists in this story turn out to hail from much closer to home, which makes the entire situation just all the more complex and painful.

“We walked in a shared silence of understanding, our anger binding us. The history and the blood that fed this soil were done. Those warriors moved on to the Mist. The blood to come mattered far more.”

Though, despite the fact that this is such a harsh and unforgiving world, there are some surprising aspects to the world building that provide a nice counterbalance to all the darkness. The main thing that comes to mind is the fact that this is a delightfully queer-normative world. There is plenty of conflict in this story, but I really appreciate that someone’s gender or sexuality ever becomes a point of contention. Same-sex relationships are fully accepted and kamani/non-binary people (such as Nix) are embraced, which is so wholesome and refreshing to see in a world where all other types of bigotry run rampant.

Another aspect of the world building that lightened up the dark tone for me is the absolutely enthralling magic system. I loved diving deeper into the lore of this world and learning more about the spirit magic, especially after some of the big revelations at the end of book 1. The use of the spirit crystals is a big focus in this plot and there are even more reveals that were equally exiciting and devastating to uncover.

Even though the magic is intricately tied to the characters’ inner conflicts and also the overall war, there is simply no denying that it is undeniably cool and entrancing to see on display. Just the way that this ethereal magic system is described is so unbelievably mesmerising, with spirit dancers reaching into the Mist to dance with the (elemental) spirits. I mean, if that doesn’t capture your imagination and fill you with wonder, then I don’t know what will. There was one particular chapter where Kaylo fully embraced his powers that I truly can’t describe as anything else than just a transcendent reading experience.

““Forgiveness is not compliance. It is the acceptance of change and freedom from the constraints of the past.” His low, rumbling voice faded. “Fight alongside forgiveness.””

And all the brilliant things that I have just been gushing about are only magnified by Dulin’s mesmerising prose, which is honestly just something else. I would not call it purple or flowery, but it nevertheless has an intoxicating quality to it that only makes all the emotional beats of this story hit all the harder. It strikes the perfect balance between being sharp and soulful, including numerous lines and passages that cut sharper than a blade.

This story grabs you by the throat and drags you across the entire spectrum of emotions, both good and bad, leaving you completely breathless by the end. The final chapters were absolutely unputdownable and I am not sure if I am going to recover from that emotional rollercoaster anytime soon, but that is exactly why I love this book so much.

“Life has put us through untold challenges, but we still are who we are at our core, despite what has happened to us.”

After reading No Heart for a Thief, I said that Dulin was going to be an author to watch, and he damn well proved it with No Safe Haven. It’s no easy feat to tackle such heavy real-world issues while also telling an incredibly engaging and entrancing fantasy story, but this series is proof that a skilled author can do so, and with effortless grace at that. I personally can’t wait to see how this story ends in the finale, even though I also really don’t want this series to be over.
Will Kaylo and Tayen ever find their safe haven? I guess we can hope against all hope, though I will happily live on in blissful ignorance for a while longer.

I think it is needless to say that I am deeply impressed by this sequel, and I honestly don’t feel like I can ever do this story justice with my words. So please, just pick up the Malitu series if you haven’t already, because I honestly think that this is one of the most important and impactful fantasy stories that is currently being written. What a masterpiece.


Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

No Safe Haven

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