I read the sequel to last year’s Grace and Fury mostly out of morbid curiosity and got exactly what I figured I was in for. Queen of Ruin makes a few improvements on the first installment but still doesn’t have the depth
A fierce sequel full of sisterhood, heart pounding action, betrayal, and intrigue in the royal court in a series that “breathes new life into the feminist story of oppression and resistance” (Publisher’s Weekly).
Banished by Asa at the end of Grace and Fury, Nomi and Malachi find themselves powerless and headed towards their all-but-certain deaths. Now that Asa sits on the throne, he will stop at nothing to make sure Malachi never sets foot in the palace again. Their only hope is to find Nomi’s sister, Serina, on the prison island of Mount Ruin. But when Nomi and Malachi arrive, it is not the island of conquered, broken women that they expected. It is an island in the grip of revolution, and Serina–polite, submissive Serina–is its leader.
Betrayal, grief, and violence have changed both sisters, and the women of Mount Ruin have their sights set on revenge beyond the confines of their island prison. They plan to sweep across the entire kingdom, issuing in a new age of freedom for all. But first they’ll have to get rid of Asa, and only Nomi knows how.
Separated once again, this time by choice, Nomi and Serina must forge their own paths as they aim to tear down the world they know, and build something better in its place.
The stakes are higher and the battles bolder in Tracy Banghart’s unputdownable sequel to Grace and Fury.
I am fully aware that I brought this on myself.
But when the sequel came out this month, I just couldn’t resist picking up a library copy to see what happened next. The first book ended on a potentially captivating cliffhanger, so I had some (morbid) curiosity about whether Tracy Banghart could actually pull out a great finale.
Building on the vague patriarchal oppression described in the first book, Queen of Ruin actually reaches for some interesting ideas. The characters are faced with difficult questions about how to rebuild after the violent overthrow of an unjust government. Victoria Aveyard did some great work on that subject with her Red Queen series follow-up, Broken Throne, earlier this year, which tries to sink its teeth into the messy process of adapting to a new world.
Queen of Ruin has none of that nuance and seems completely uninterested in the character-level implications of this kind of upheaval. It avoids discomfort at all costs, sanding down the rough edges and rescuing characters from difficult decisions as soon as possible. It brushes off consequences in favor of making sure the sisters have a happy ending where they can still wear beautiful gowns in a lovely palace, evenly-paired off with handsome young men. It was less Broken Throne than it was that cringey scene in the Game of Thrones finale where everyone laughs at the idea of democracy.
Let’s start with the elements of Grace and Fury that show up again in Queen of Ruin:
- Another fantastic title. Grace and Fury and Queen of Ruin are both great titles on the shelf but get even better as you read.
- The writing style, one of my biggest objections to Grace and Fury, is unchanged. The book is still strikingly underwritten, reading more like a detailed plot summary than narrative. Either I’ve forgotten how truly atrocious the dialogue was, or it got worse.
- The storyline is still largely stock and predictable.
- Lots of thinly-drawn women are introduced only to be immediately fridged.
- Still lots of hand-waving about Nomi and Serina making it through danger with ease as “Somehow, she got away.” (This is an actual quote and also a good plot summary.)
But there’s still plenty that’s different:
- Action sequences were a weakness of Grace and Fury, but there’s
realimprovement here. There are a couple of fight scenes that really worked for me.
- While all the major plot points were predictable, there were actually a few smaller character beats that pleasantly surprised me.
- I was relieved that the constant threat of sexual assault that hung over the characters in Grace and Fury let up significantly. There were still moments when the threat of rape was used for tension, but only a few. (There’s nothing wrong, of course, with exploring assault in a YA novel, but it has to be handled well. Grace and Fury, which otherwise seemed aimed at a very young audience, just didn’t have the depth.)
- Grace and Fury
startsoff simple and easy, then descends into bloody chaos. Queen of Ruin, inexplicably, reverses this pattern, beginning in the midst of a revolution and slowly making its way to a simple, easy conclusion that ties everything up neatly.
In the end, I’m not sure why this story had to be two books. It reminded me of that time post-Harry Potter when the last installment of any series was split into two movies for no reason. This is one arc, and not a particularly long or complicated one, so it should have been a standalone.
More importantly, I finished Queen of Ruin unsure what, exactly, is feminist about this story. The female-empowerment-angle was a huge part of the book’s marketing, and I still don’t see what’s feminist about the book. Is it all the dead women? The oppression? The romance and dresses? The men that save the day as leaders and romantic interests? One f/f minor character pairing doesn’t show you’re able to imagine a world where women’s stories don’t revolve around the men in their lives. At the end of the day, Nomi’s and Serina’s do.