Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 592
Release Date: October 29th, 2019
Series: A CHORUS OF DRAGONS, Book 2
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Really Liked It!
Note: I was provided an ARC of this book by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
WARNING: Light spoilers ahead for Book One, THE RUIN OF KINGS. Haven’t read it yet? You can read my review here!
Kihrin D’Mon is on the run. Two days ago, a harrowing set of events unintentionally released demons across the continent to do as they please. Now Kihrin is hoping to find Janel, a woman he met while traveling through the Afterlife. He finds Janel and her traveling companion, Brother Qown at an Inn, and not only are they waiting for him, they have need of his help – there’s a dragon about to attack the city of Atrine, and only working together can they hope to defeat it. In an effort to sway Kihirn to their side, Janel and Brother Qown begin recounting the last several years of their lives, explaining how Janel grew from disgraced count and slayer of dragons, eventually unfolding what led this dragon to attack Atrine – and why Janel is aligning herself with some old foes.
THE NAME OF ALL THINGS is a fantastic sequel that manages to move past many of the problems that plagued its predecessor, THE RUIN OF KINGS (RoK). To set the stage, I want to briefly recap some issues I had with RoK. Let’s be clear, there was a lot I liked about the first book, a read I ultimately gave 4 stars. But I found the family trees overly complicated, and not something that could be easily ignored because they were crucial to understanding the political maneuverings of several characters. Add in a frequently-used magic that swaps souls between two bodies, and reincarnating gods, and I could not even begin to describe who is related to who in this series. On top of that, RoK was a book that leaned heavily on some wellworn medieval tropes, including treating women as second class citizens; there were very few women of consequence in the first book, and one or two fridgings (admittedly in a book full of dead people by the end).
If THE RUIN OF KINGS was a well-worn Western European medieval fantasy trope-fest, THE NAME OF ALL THINGS is here to swipe all those rules off the table. While Kihrin returns, the lead character of NAME is a woman named Janel. Janel appeared briefly in RUIN when Kihrin went to the Afterlife, and now that he’s caught up with her in the real world, it’s time to find out what she’s been doing for the last several years. And what she’s been doing is being a kick-ass wandering warrior, interacting with several other women of agency and ability, trying to thwart archdemons, despotic dukes, and immortal wizards.
Janel’s story takes place in the country of Jorat, which is much more flexible in its gender rules and governing structure, incredibly freeing after the house politics of RoK told women to sit in a corner. Indeed, the whole culture of Jorat is founded on a system of two kinds of honor: the honor of protecting and the honor of submitting to a person of superior strength. Janel has the strength to protect people, and therefore there is no shame in following her as leader. Even within this somewhat simple system there are intricacies (and a few who still don’t believe women can be in charge), but those who ignore women are treated as fools and someone who does that at their own peril. Finally we have a viewpoint in this world where women in power is the norm, and women submitting is treated as abnormal. The treatment of women between the two books is night and day, and I truly wonder how much of that was intentional due to the male POV of book one and the female POV of book two. Regardless, you can guess which one I preferred.
For those who disliked THE RUIN OF KINGS structure of alternating time periods every chapter, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s been thrown out this time around! (I, for one, actually loved the alternating chapters as it kept me hooked to see when certain things paid off.) There’s still a bit of a story-within-a-story element. Kihirin meets up with Janel and her companion, Brother Qown, at the beginning of the book. Janel and Qown take turns recounting what Janel has been doing for the last few years, but these viewpoints are for one continuous forward-moving story as opposed to jumping around in the timeline. Every chapter begins in the inn with Kihrin, Janel and Brother Qown so that Kirhin (and others) can react to or clarify events that just happened. It was a device that worked for the most part but occasionally wore a little thin. As with RoK, eventually the tale is concluded, and the three heroes must deal with one last threat before the book ends.
It helped immensely that the plot of THE NAME OF ALL THINGS felt vastly more straightforward than THE RUIN OF KINGS. There’s still plenty of secret agendas and several cameos of characters from the other book, but especially in the first half, Janel’s story is largely removed from the overall machinations of the Quur empire, and we don’t have to worry about which reincarnated god is in whose body. This element does come to the forefront towards the end of the book, but by that point, I had just decided to let the names wash over me and not try too hard to keep track of things. There’s so many characters you would need a literal serial killer board full of crisscrossing string to remember that these two used to be mortal enemies, but now one of them reincarnated as the other’s son, so it’s awkward now.
For those who were on the fence about proceeding with the second book in the series, I’d say THE NAME OF ALL THINGS is worth a look. Given my reservations about the first book, I was wary of diving into this one, and was somewhat shocked to find that this was a read that I was cramming into every second of the day, that I was reading during my lunch hour and well into the night because the plot had me so thoroughly hooked. There were so many changes that made this read truly superior to its predecessor, not the least of which was a new female POV I found much more engaging. I will definitely be continuing forward with the series, and look forward to seeing what’s next!