[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may reference some events from Starflight, the first book in the series. You can find my (brief) thoughts on Starflight here.]
After two years in hiding, Princess Cassia Rose is returned to her home planet in chains, but Etruria is in a far worse state than she expected; although the war she accidentally caused is over, her people are now suffering under the rule a vicious tyrant. Her tasks are as follows: Reclaim her throne, put down a rebellion, and find a cure for the mysterious disease that’s plaguing her lands. And all the while, her former shipmates – including her best friend and sometimes-lover Kane – are trying desperately to rescue her.
My memories of the events of Starflight are pretty shaky at this point, as it’s been almost three years since I read it, but what I do remember – apart from my overwhelmingly positive feelings about it – is that Cassia and Kane were amazing… So naturally I was excited that they’d be getting their own book!
Unfortunately, however, it was a huge let-down. Cassia and Kane were both significantly less compelling than in the previous book, and the rest of the Banshee crew were more background dressing than anything; Doran and Solara in particular seemed like they barely had a sentence of dialogue between them, a huge downgrade from their main-character status in Starflight. Of the new characters, General Jordan was the most prominent and the best-developed, though that’s really not saying much, as his competition was Belle, who was briefly a plot device and was then just there, and Kane’s mother, who had so little screen time that I had to look up her name (it’s Rena).
And then there’s Marius, the book’s primary antagonist. And although Cassia makes it clear in her internal monologue that he’s a despicable person, we’re not given a reason to think of him as any more threatening than your average petty, entitled child.
In terms of romance, Cassia and Kane’s almost-but-not-quite-relationship from the first book was threatened in Starfall by the introduction of an alternative potential love interest for Cassia, but the love triangle is entirely unconvincing.
The plot is kind of all over the place; the book starts and ends with Etruria, but its main focus is actually on the outbreak of an unknown disease, and the Banshee crew’s search for a cure, which seems like it should have been a side-story at most, as its connection to all the socio-political drama is very convoluted. The other storylines were all under-developed and uninteresting, and the ending was ultimately unsatisfying (but might have been less so if we’d been given any reason to care about a certain character who became very important in the last couple of chapters).
It was also incredibly rushed, especially near the beginning of the book, when Cassia is held captive by Marius for what felt like half a second, making her ordeals at that time seem very insubstantial. The pacing got a lot better as the book went on, but I was left feeling somewhat resentful that what I was hoping would be a really great period of character development for Cassia was instead fleeting and unimpactful.
Giving two stars to a book I was this excited about was almost physically painful, but even if my hopes for Starfall hadn’t been so badly disappointed, it was still more boring than anything else. Luckily, it’s more of a companion novel than a straight-up sequel, so its lack of brilliance needn’t deter anyone from reading Starflight.