“The worst leaders surround themselves with cowards. If nobody ever tells a king no, he loses his grasp on right and wrong. A strong envoy is a whetstone for a sharp king.”
The Bitter Crown has a lot to live up to. Its predecessor, The Lost War, set the stage for an epic fantasy saga with its high stakes, well-developed characters, and masterfully crafted world. Does Justin Lee Anderson deliver with this sequel? Buckle up, because I’m about to dive into the thick of it.
The book starts off with Anderson masterfully weaving together key events from The Lost War, refreshing your memory without resorting to dull exposition. It’s a testament to his writing skill and a perfect way to ease readers back into the world of Eidyn.
We’re quickly whisked back to Dun Eidyn, where our heroes remain trapped within a city overrun by monstrous forces and the restless dead. The pacing at the start evokes the emotional turmoil left hanging at the end of “The Lost War,” plunging you back into the heart of the story. I found myself utterly hooked, from the start and had high hopes for the adventure I was about to go on.
“This war we fight now is not a war for land, for titles or power. It is a war for something we should demand as the very basis of our society. It is a war for truth. It is a war against manipulation and lies. It is a war for the very soul of Eidyn.”
It doesn’t take you long to realize that this book is going to be much darker compared to book one. While I won’t spoil the storytelling by revealing specific plot points, let’s just say trigger warnings might also include spoilers this time around. This story is simply too good to ruin before you embark on its gripping journey. Trust me, you won’t regret diving headfirst into the darkness.
Anderson excels at crafting characters who are multidimensional and morally ambiguous. Each individual, regardless of their alignment, has motivations and perspectives that resonate on a human level. This allows readers to connect with them, even if their actions are questionable or even reprehensible.
The way Anderson tackles morality is indeed masterful. He avoids the typical black-and-white portrayal of good and evil, instead opting for a nuanced exploration of the gray areas. He forces readers to question their own values and consider the complex factors that influence moral decisions. This ambiguity creates a deeply engaging narrative where lines blur, judgments are clouded, and characters wrestle with their own conscience.
The resulting tension and conflicting ideologies and incomplete information lead to friction and division. The simmering anger, rage, and desire for revenge threaten to consume them all. This sense of impending doom adds another layer of intensity to the already gripping story.
I especially appreciate how he highlights the characters’ internal struggles. They are not simply pawns in a larger game; they are individuals grappling with their own vulnerabilities and grappling with the weight of their choices.
Anderson’s worldbuilding deserves special mention. While slightly slower than in “The Lost War,” it’s crucial for establishing the political intrigue and sets the stage for the next book. Anderson delivers a compelling sequel, even if the final twist isn’t quite as shocking as the first book’s. It still left me eager to discuss it with Anderson directly and I’m impatiently awaiting the third installment. He skillfully builds upon the foundation laid in book one, creating a captivating narrative that leaves readers wanting more.
The potential for this series to become a modern classic is undeniable. Anderson’s masterful worldbuilding, captivating characters, and thrilling plot twists have already captured the hearts of countless readers. If he can maintain this momentum and deliver a satisfying conclusion in the following installments, there’s no doubt this series will be etched in fantasy history. I can see it becoming a staple in conversations about modern fantasy greats for years to come.
Disclaimer: ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest and fair review