Friday, January 23, 2015

Second Daughter (The Dharian Affairs Trilogy #2) by Susan Kaye Quinn

Aniri is back in Jungali with Prince Malik.  Now that things have settled down a little though the threat of war with Samir looms large, Aniri now has time to wonder if she has rushed into her engagement with the handsome prince.  Aniri has good reason to doubt given that her last affair with the courtesan Deevish ended in betrayal. Aniri barely has a change to deal with her jitters before she is notified that an assassination attempt has been made on her sister, the second daughter of Dahria, Selderi.  Though Malik desperately wants Aniri to marry him first to cement both their relationship and the treaty between their two nations, Aniri is compelled to rush to her sister's side.  Aniri's trip to Samaria will reveal a long standing family mystery but at the same time, push her country closer to war, even as it threatens her marriage to Malik.

The Dharian Affairs Trilogy is rare in that it is a steampunk series based outside of Europe, with a large cast of people of colour.  Quinn takes great care to fill her story with a strong sense of culture and India.  Her descriptive writing is vivid, thus making it easy to picture the surroundings and get swept away with them.  With the potential of war looming in the future it raises the tension in Second Daughter. I must however admit that I am not as enamored with Second Daughter, as I was with Third DaughterThird Daughter is very slow moving at the beginning and it feels very much like it is treading water.  While it is absolutely sensible for Aniri to doubt herself, in terms of her love for Malik, it took up far too much of the story given what was at stake.

Aniri continues to be filled with spunky agency.  She never thinks things through, or has a coherent plan; she simply moves from one bad situation to another, justifying her lack of forethought by the fact that those she loves are in danger.  Some of this can be justified by Aniri's youth but at the same time, I feel as though she should have grown more, given the events of Third Daughter, beyond the notion that rushing into an unbreakable marriage contract without forethought could have consequences. I do however like the fact that Aniri remains intellectually curious and is unafraid to face danger, even if common sense should at least cause her to pause momentarily.

One of the things I like about the Dharian Affairs Trilogy is the all of the world created by Susan Kaye Quinn are matriarchies.  Women are highly prized and men may only lead the country, if there isn't a female heir. There are several strong side characters in the novel like Riva the tinkerer, Nisha, Malik's sister in law, and of course, Queen Amala.  Though none of these women had a significant role to play per say, each in their own way helped guide the story and offer the reader insight into the world, political situation and customs.  The one character who gave me pause was Selderi whom we are told repeatedly is good, and sweet.  Selderi is several months pregnant and she is treated like a near invalid because of it.  Yes, Selderi is pregnant and was poisoned but it felt like a trope to make the pregnant woman fragile. 

Second Daughter did touch briefly on class when Aniri visits the brother were Selderi is stashed.  She realises that unlike Dharai, prostitution can be a sole sucking affair lacking mystique and political intrigue.  There is also the character of Deevish whom in the last book was portrayed as the great betrayer. In Second Daughter we learn a little about Deevish's background and it becomes clear that given his class position, he has little choice but to involve himself in a false romance with Aniri and while she may judge him, Aniri has never had to worry about her next meal or where her clothing may come from.  I feel that Quinn could have gone a little further with this plot line though.  It would have provided a great chance for Aniri to grow a little further.

Unfortunately, The Dharian Affairs Triology, continues to be erased in terms of GLBT people, as well as disabled people.  I really don't understand the erasure at all and while common in this genre, is never acceptable.

In many ways, Second Daughter feels like a filler novel.  Yes, we learn more about the Samarian threat and even witness the reunion of Aniri with her once thought dead father but it all feels anticlimactic somehow - particularly the scenes with Aniri's father. Second Daughter did what it was supposed to do - set up the reader for the third and last installment of this series but beyond that, nothing much happened and there wasn't any significant character growth.  Yes, the ending will compel you to read First Daughter but beyond that, Second Daughter was at best a meh place holder.