Gripped by a tyrant king and in the thrall of dark magic, the kingdom is in peril. Elspeth and Ravyn have gathered most of the twelve Providence Cards, but the last—and most important—one remains to be the Twin Alders. If they’re going to find the card before Solstice and set free the kingdom, they will need to journey through the dangerous mist-cloaked forest. The only one who can lead them through is the monster that shares Elspeth’s the Nightmare.
And he’s not eager to share any longer."
Two Twisted Crowns is the thrilling conclusion to The Shepherd King duology, and I loved every minute of it. I really enjoyed One Dark Window last year and was eager to read this sequel, so I'm happy to say that it really lived up to my expectations and proved to be a fantastic wrap-up to the story.
The story picks up not long after the events of One Dark Window, so there's not much to catch up on from in between the books. I had to refresh my own memory about events from the first book, but it didn't take me too long to get back into the story and remember everything going on. When we pick up, Elspeth is imprisoned with Nightmare, everyone wants to find the last card in order to break the curse and release the fog, and most of our characters are feeling pretty bad.
Elspeth is relegated to the background quite a bit in this story as she shares her POV with Nightmare who has largely taken over her body for his own use. I personally didn't mind her being in the background as much because I felt like it provided a really interesting dynamic to explore between Elspeth/Nightmare and the rest of her companions, and I actually really liked getting so much of the Shepherd King as a 'living, breathing' character, even if it was at the expense of Elspeth. Because of this, Elspeth has less of a character arc, but instead we got to learn far more about Nightmare and explore his own background and development, which I found fascinating. His interactions with the rest of the characters while on their journey were also highly entertaining and showed a lot of personality that also added depth to his character.
We follow Ravyn's POV as well, and I enjoyed watching him interact with everyone else and make some of his own difficult decisions. He shows a lot of personal growth in this book, and I liked watching him attempt to communicate with Elspeth and really come to terms with his own feelings. Elm also comes to the forefront in this book with his POV chapters as he takes center stage while everyone else is off trying to find the last card. I don't necessarily consider him a favorite character, but I did appreciate this chance to dive deeper in his head and explore his storyline. Iona is not a POV character, but still took a very prominent role with Elm back at the castle. I actually think she's one of the most fascinating characters so I liked the chance to get to know her better and see how her usage of the Maiden card would play out. I did find that Elm and Iona's storyline got a bit too romance-heavy at times when I didn't care all that much about it, but this didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the rest of the book.
In general, I thought that there was great banter between all of the characters that wasn't overdone. Their interactions brought some fitting levity at times when it was needed, and really helped to make all of the characters seem very real and human.
The atmosphere of this duology has been one of my favorite things about it. There's a dark, foreboding air that lingers in this world, but it's not too dark and therefore acts as a perfect balance for the tone of the story. The plotting and world-building in The Shepherd King duology also seems very tight and cohesive, and I felt most things were explained in satisfactory manners. There are a lot of cliche/stereotypical elements, but they all work so well in their own rights and I feel like Gillig really adds some new ideas to them. The pacing of Two Twisted Crowns is on the slower side, but certainly not too slow and it was able to easily capture my attention for the entire book.
One of my favorite things about this duology has been the magic system–I am fascinated by the Providence cards! I love how they work and learning about the different limits that each one has. I do feel as though the cards overall were explored a bit less in this book, but there was still plenty of focus on specific cards and, of course, the overarching issues at play that I won't go into details about. We get a lot of really satisfying answers in this book about the magic and how everything works. Some of this is done via flashback memories regarding Nightmare and who he is/his past, which really helped explain a lot and bring everything together.
Overall, I've given Two Twisted Crowns 4.25 stars! I am really pleasantly surprised by how much I've enjoyed this trilogy, and would absolutely recommend it to any fantasy fan who enjoys a unique magic system. I am really excited about Rachel Gillig and look forward to more work from her, as I'd love to see her branch out and try news things in fantasy after this duology, as I think she has a lot of incredible potential.