Review: THE CROW RIDER by Kalyn Josephson

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Page Count: 368
Release Date: July 7th, 2020
Series: THE STORM CROW, Book 2
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in return for my fair and honest review.

Warning: Possible light spoilers ahead for book one in the series.  You can read a review of THE STORM CROW here!

The Crow RiderAfter weeks of living as a political hostage in the Illucian court, Thia has made her break for freedom, escaping with the last surviving magical crow in existence.  Together with Caylus and Kiva, Thia must make her way to a nearby kingdom where a summit will be held in a few short weeks to determine how to handle the conquering Illucian armies.  With so many kingdoms determined to remain neutral rather than risk Queen Razel’s wrath, Thia must prove to them that the storm crow Res is powerful enough to lead a united front to victory.  But when Razel reveals a formidable new ally, will even Res be enough to stop her?

THE CROW RIDER is one of those sequels that opens up its scope from the first book, and is all the better for it.  The majority of THE STORM CROW was a tale of intrigue and espionage, as Thia tried to survive in an enemy court, living as a hostage for her kingdom’s good behavior.  Now that she’s escaped, it’s time to assemble an army.  Thia must now step up and be a leader, finding ways to convince the other kingdoms to form an alliance against Queen Razel and the Illucian army.   You’ll find epic-sized battles as cities come under siege and countries go to war, with magic being wielded on both sides.  As the finale to a duology, the stakes are at their highest, and Thia must lead her people to victory or die trying.

The characters continue to be fleshed out in book two.  One of the things that was noteworthy about Thia in THE STORM CROW was that she wasn’t a flawless heroine.  Having witnessed a massacre that killed her mother and wiped out the crows that were an integral part of her culture, Thia struggled with depression.  Since then, she’s found ways to manage it and become a stronger person, but that doesn’t mean she’s healed completely.  And Thia’s not the only character who’s a little bit broken.  Caylus, the baker with a penchant for science, continues to have PTSD as he’s confronted with a traumatic past he’s trying to escape.  These may seem like grim scenarios, but it makes it all the more uplifting when these characters come together and help each other past their dark times, learning to live with and overcome their emotional handicaps.

And of course, the standout element in this book is Thia’s relationship with Res, the titular giant storm crow who is the key to any hope the alliance has of defeating Illucia.  Those who came for the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON vibe won’t be disappointed, as Thia learns to ride Res and help him understand his abilities.  Although he can’t talk, Res seems as intelligent as any human, and frequently makes his presence known on and off the battlefield. He and Thia work together for some truly spectacular battle sequences.

If I have one complaint about THE CROW RIDER, it’s that a critical element of world-building having to do with Thia’s family’s connection with the crows felt a bit shoe-horned in and underdeveloped.  It’s a reveal that ups the stakes, but also left unanswered questions.   It felt like something that might have been given more time in a trilogy, but with only two books, the decision instead was to simply introduce the complication and deal with the consequences.

(And as a quick aside, while discussing weaknesses, the romance here felt like it was checking a box instead of being a genuinely earned relationship.  It didn’t harm my enjoyment of the book, but it wasn’t something I was overly invested in.)

THE CROW RIDER is a fantastic epic finale, one that takes its time as it builds to the ultimate battles.  You’ll find equal time given to character development and battles, time spent training and time spent smashing the bad guys into the ground. If you’re looking for a magical animal companion book to spend time with, THE STORM CROW duology is an excellent place to start.

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