Sidney is facing new challenges with the tasks the Alchemists have given her, to watch and protect the moroi with whom she has become friendly. But increasingly she is finding their attitudes wrong and even ridiculous, more and more she is having to assume an act to pretend the suitable levels of revulsion the alchemists continually show to the Moroi.
Increasingly, she doesn’t fit among the Alchemists, and this only becomes more extreme when it becomes apparent that the Alchemists are dealing with hunters who don’t seem to differentiate between the moroi and the strigoi. But when given the chance to leave, does she really want to break away from the only people she’s ever known?
Then her magical learning is also putting her at risk – but from a predatory witch this time. And not just her, other untrained, reluctant magic users are risking death and worse and it’s a dangerous race to see if Sidney and her teacher can protect them even while they themselves become targets
And then there’s Adrian – Adrian who won’t give up loving Sidney, Adrian who continues to intrigue Sidney and Adrian who may have permanently burrowed into Sidney’s affections despite all her attempts to stop it.
The story of this book is good, fun and pretty decent. It’s not amazing but we have several inter-twining plot lines all of which are decently placed and explored. All of them are developed and add to the ongoing meta plot which always keeps me happy and all of them kept me amused and ensured that I will be looking to the next book with curious interest.
I can’t say they enthralled me, Sidney learning magic and tracking down the witch, Sidney’s relationship with Adrian and Sidney deciding which path to take with the Alchemists, to stay or to go and leave it all behind – but they were all good, strong stories.
What did really stand out was Sidney herself
I do like the relationship between Adrian and Sidney – despite his pushiness. And he is pushy, he does constantly use innuendo to encroach on her comfort zone, even if he uses humour to do it.
But at the same time from her and him there’s a lot of emphasising her agency and her judgement. Several times he disagrees with her – but respects that the matter is both her decision AND that she is more qualified to make these decisions than he is – because she’s intelligent, competent, organised, caring, selfless – all far more so than he is. He recognises not just that she must be the one to make the decision but also that she is better able to make the decision than he could be. I even love the moment where they finally seem ready to take their relationship to the next level and he insists she keep her dress on she demands “Is that your decision to make?”
For all Adrian’s flirting and outrageous actions, Sidney is the one in charge.
I also loved that, while Sidney was perhaps a bit too trusting of Marcus from the very beginning, she didn’t fall into the love triangle trap. While everyone else is flocking around him saying how gorgeous he is, Sidney is unmoved. She’s interested in Adrian, she’s not going to complicate things with a convoluted love triangle just because the guy is good looking, we’re not going to follow the same very tired path that so many YA authors have before us.
I like Sidney’s growth as a character – from the girl who grew up with the alchemists and was raised on their prejudices and assumptions about the moroi and dhampirs, she has grown into a young woman with her own opinions and her own friends. But it hasn’t been easy and smooth and she still has moments in her mind where she has the instinctive recoil – especially when it comes to her own use of magic or Moroi magic use. She still has these bars to uncover, let alone actually being in a relationship with Adrian.
I like how it isn’t easy – how she still has the reservations of her upbringing holding her back but also the spectre of Alchemist re-education looming over her and the need to at least fake the revulsion she no longer feels. That same fakery and contact with the alchemists really puts both her past behaviour into a new light as she sees the almost comic aversion of her fellows.
I also really like that, though she contacted Marcus and worked with them, she still chose her own path. She isn’t content to do things his way, she hasn’t jumped one ship just to jump on another. Sidney has decided to do what she wants and what she thinks is best and what she thinks is most effective.
And I think that’s one of the main things we see in this book that I like. Yes, Sidney is constantly in the service of others, yes she is constantly helping others and doesn’t seem to pursue her own agenda nearly as much. But at the same time she’s coming to help others on her own terms, by her own standards in ways she agrees with. She doesn’t want to practice magic and she still has reservations about it – but even when pushed into it she reads ahead, she does her own planning and sets her own levels of agency and assumes her own motivations even while being manipulated. Even when Angie is having problems she doesn’t make a herculean effort to fix them, she’s beginning to expect them to sort out their own difficulties like adults and not have her run around after them all the time. It’s another element of her growth.
So there’s a lot good here, but there was precious little inclusion, 2 POC character, Rose and her Turkish father, both in tiny roles and her father being regarded with his usual suspicion and, as ever, no GBLT characters at all. I enjoyed the story and yet… and yet towards the end of the book I found myself compulsively checking the page numbers to see how much longer I had left to go. I can’t say it was overwritten necessarily, or particularly badly paced, I would have noticed while reading. But it felt like we were taking a long time to finally wrap it up and I was ready for the book to end a fair while before it did. I think it comes down less to writing and just to how much the book is enthralling, it’s interesting, it’s amusing – but it’s not 300 pages worth of interesting and amusing. Maybe it’s because while I don’t find the relationship between Sidney and Adrian annoying, I don’t find it enthralling either. The storylines were good but they weren’t brilliant, I think is the simple answer