“Do not fear the night, for the darkest of creatures rise with the sun.”
Whereas there was a bit of a time jump between book 1 and 2, this newest instalment picks up right after the devastating battle at the end of The Forbidden Realms. Newell wastes no time and smoothly sucks the readers back into the story, immediately reminding us of how dire the situation has gotten.
Neer once again finds herself scared and alone, with danger lurking around every corner. She never signed up to fight in this war, but she’s in the thick of it now and there’s no turning back. The fate of the world lies in her hands, but does she have the power to save it, or will she bring everything to ruin?
“It’s what I’ve always done, isn’t it? Fight someone else’s war. When will my life be mine? When will I ever get a choice?”
From the moment I started reading this series, I had been eager to explore the mysterious evaesh forest. And honestly, its alluring depiction here was even better than I ever could have imagined. I really loved how this forest just came to life before my eyes, feeling both so mesmerisingly magical and unsettlingly sinister at the same time.
Now, I know I am not the first reviewer to make this comparison, but the level of world building comes close to that of Tolkien in terms of its complexity and richness. Newell keeps expanding this epic world with effortless grace, both building on what’s already established while also continuing to introduce new intriguing concepts that keep you glued to the page.
Every aspect of the world building just feels so organic and well-developed; from the diverse races and cultures, to the made-up languages, to the extensive history, to the unique magical creatures, and to the incredibly rich lore. Every time I think I have uncovered everything there is to explore, it turns out that there is yet another deeper layer ready to be peeled back, and I absolutely love that.
“Give in to the power that has graced your soul. Untether, and be set free.”
In terms of plot and pacing, this instalment is also undoubtedly the strongest in the series so far. Book 1 and 2 were fairly action-packed and almost felt a bit hectic at times, but here the action is dialed down a bit and we get to really explore the physical and mental toll that this conflict is taking on these characters. And because of this more even balance, the action scenes ended up being more intense when they did hit, because I actually felt the emotional weight and believed the incredibly high stakes.
And trust me, the stakes are sky-high here. I am not exaggerating when I say that this instalment goes Poppy War and Dark Age levels of dark and disturbing, and I am personally 100% on-board for the direction this series is going in. Newell is doing an amazing job of depicting this war in a very nuanced and complex way, with good and bad people on both sides of the conflict. None of the factions in this war are monoliths and some of the antagonists are turning out to be much more complex than I was anticipating, which only increased the tension for me.
I am honestly really impressed with the powerful way that delicate themes such as mental health, grief, survivor’s guilt, self-doubt, and PTSD are explored in this story.
Each character has their own inner demons to fight and I really appreciate that we get to see them struggle, especially considering how much weight they are all carrying. All of their individual journeys are appropriately messy and full of mistakes, which is exactly what makes these characters so captivating to follow.
“Neer felt no pain. No confusion or regret. She was hollow. Death could take her away, and she’d allow it to pull her asunder.”
I was also very happy to see this unlikely and diverse motley crew all back together again after being separated in book 2, because the strong friendships and found family bonds are a highlight of this series for me.
Though, I do have to admit that I am not as emotionally invested in the characters as I would have expected and liked to be at this point in the series. As compelling as I find all the individual character arcs, I can’t help but feel like some characters are a little bit stagnant in their growth or feel more juvenile than I think is fitting or believable.
I think this is mainly due to the fact that some of the dialogue and inner monologue felt a bit too melodramatic or cheesy for me, almost coming close to something I’d expect to see in a CW show. And though I enjoy the more light-hearted banter as a counterbalance to all the chaos, trauma, and destruction, I actually think some scenes felt jarring here considering how grave and dark the overall tone of the story has gotten by this point.
All that said, where the character work and emotional connection might be a bit lacking for me personally, there’s no denying that the world building, plot progression, and overall vision for this series has only become stronger and stronger.
There are countless exciting reveals, both in terms of the world building and in terms of the characters’ backstories, that honestly shocked me to my core. And on top of that, Newell is also a master at building up tension and invoking a sense of dread, which kept me glued to the page from start to finish.
“Forgiveness brings peace to the mind, vengeance brings power to the soul.”
Even with my minor quibbles, I still had an absolute blast reading (or rather, devouring) this book and I actually consider this my favourite instalment in the series so far. It truly feels like Newell has found her stride as an author with Shadows of Nyn’Dira, which gets me extremely excited to see where she is going to take things next.
If you haven’t yet picked up the Fallen Light series, I think you are sorely missing out. This is the engaging and dark twist on a sprawling Tolkien-esque fantasy that you didn’t know you needed!
Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.