Monday, November 30, 2020

Review: King of the Rising (Islands of Blood and Storm #2) by Kacen Callender

King of the Rising (Islands of Blood and Storm #2) by Kacen Callender
Publication Date: October 13th, 2020
Hardcover. 384 pages

About King of the Rising:

"The second novel in the Islands of Blood and Storm series set in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression—perfect for fans of R.F. Kuang and Tasha Suri. 

A revolution has swept through the islands of Hans Lollik and former slave Loren Jannik has been chosen to lead the survivors in a bid to free the islands forever. But the rebels are running out of food, weapons and options. And as the Fjern inch closer to reclaiming Hans Lollik with every battle, Loren is faced with a choice that could shift the course of the revolution in their favor-or doom it to failure."

The Islands of Blood and Storm duology has been an incredibly intense and unpredictable journey, and I am so glad I got to read it. I have had a hard time figuring out just how to rate this book, because on some levels it's an easy five stars, but then there are parts that weren't necessarily amazing. In the end, though, the plot, arc, and ending of the entire duology was just too effective and perfectly executed to not go for a high rating. 

The Islands of Blood and Storm has been a really stand out fantasy series for a myriad of reasons. The magic itself takes the form of 'kraft' that some characters are gifted (or cursed, in some regards) with when they are born. The Jannik, or the white colonizer, are allowed to live with the kraft, but the islanders who are the slaves are often immediately killed upon discovery of their kraft. The slaves are, as might be expected, treated in a subhuman fashion, and revolution has been brewing slowly for years. There's not a lot of hope in this book, but in the moments where that hope is present, it really hits hard. 

The first book followed the POV of Sigourney Rose, and this time we follow the POV of Loren, her previous bodyguard/slave who is now becoming leader of the rebellion/revolution. Loren is really a fascinating POV to follow, partially because of his need to constantly tell the truth and inability to lie to anyone. There's no coercion in this, it is simply that because of everything he has experienced, he refuses to lie to anyone, which in turn leads to some particularly interesting scenarios. He is very flawed and often lets his heart get in the way of making decisions that would help his cause and instead leads to fairly negative consequences more often than not. He gains support early on, but struggles to keep that support and encouragement from those who have chosen him, which acts as a major conflict and issue in the plot. This duology is a strong mix of slow burn and high action, with long build ups to major plot points with a lot of focus on themes and characters. 

I was, admittedly, rather surprised by the ending. I expected something similar to it to maybe happen, but I was surprised by the direction Callender chose for the overall ending. It's a hard ending, but it fits for an equally hard book that is frequently brutal and unrelenting in the dark and cruel topics that it handles. There is a lot of cruelty throughout this story, and the depictions of racism are raw and demand attention. I think one of the my favorite things about the ending--and really, this duology in general--is the way that it demands discussions, focuses on reflections of racism, and really makes you evaluation what constitutes power, privilege, and what it means to both wield those and what it means when there are varying layers to power. 

Overall, I've given King of the Rising 4.5 stars! For all intents and purposes, this is a five star read. The small knock in the rating is simply because I felt that a lot of the plot and general activity of this book was a bit stagnant in times and I felt like there was simply a lot of rowing back and forth between islands. I didn't really mind this, but at the same time it just felt a bit repetitive at times. If you're interested in reading a fantasy that looks at some real, relevant, and difficult topics while also telling a truly phenomenal story that is unpredictable and unmerciful, then I very much encourage you to pick up Queen of the Conquered and King of the Rising!

*I received a copy of King of the Rising courtesy of Orbit in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the book.*

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