Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead is the second book in the Age of X series. The first was Gameboard of the Gods, which I reviewed last year. (You should go read that review for the worldbuilding background, if you haven't already, since I won't be recapping.) I am continuing to enjoy this series a lot and am looking forward to the next instalment.
Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin’s old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA’s dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.

Meanwhile, Mae—grudgingly posing as Justin’s concubine—has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter’s connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission—and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.
We continue to follow the same three characters we met in the first book: Justin, Mae and Tessa. Tessa's story line is the most minor but still gives us a view of life in RUNA and some additional information about the overarching plot that the others can't access. Having started at a new school, Tessa end up working with a somewhat dodgy journalist as part of a school project about the RUNA media. I quite like Tessa, but I'm looking forward to a future book in which she plays a larger role. Although her story in this is a complete arc (with a few loose ends at the end, of course) it's a much smaller arc than the other two.

Justin plays the biggest role in the first part of the book in a point of view sense; when he and Mae are both in a scene, he is most likely to be the point of view character. I suppose that's mostly because of the ravens talking to him in his head. And because, when the two of them go on a mission to a country comprised of former bible-belt states (as far as I could tell — the city they stay near is in what was once Alabama), the women are separated from the men and not really allowed to contribute anything useful except covertly. More on that shortly. In terms of character development, Justin has changed markedly from the start of the first book (the reveal at the end of Gameboard of the Gods being a large part of that) and in this instalment he continues to accept the power of the gods, albeit with degrees of reluctance. There's a certain cognitive dissonance in his acceptance, or lack there of, of godly interference in his life. It all turns out a bit ironically for him, from the reader's point of view. Hehe.

The central arc of the story concerns Justin's and Mae's trip. While Justin finds himself tied up with miscellaneous diplomatic and religious events, Mae is stuck with the misogyny-mandated pot scrubbing and some of her own side-adventures (which are kind of spoilers). The gender politics in Arcadia (bible-belt land) are nauseating and I wouldn't wish upon anyone, but what Mead did with them was interesting, although some might argue thinly veiled (I'm not sure that I would). That said, I strongly feel that a healthy cynicism regarding religion (or at least open-mindedness and/or appreciation for ancient pantheons) is required to enjoy this book. I think if you take it (the book or religion) too seriously, this book has the potential to offend. I also don't think it's intended that way, per se. If I had to guess, I'd say the intention was to explore different societal attitudes towards religion (and to tell a good story). (She definitely tells a good story.)

One of the most interesting things about this series, is that no one knows how many volumes there will be. It means (obviously) that it's not following a trilogy arc — no middle book syndrome here — and that, for now, it will be going on indefinitely. I don't have to get sad about it all being over next year. That's not something that I've encountered too often lately (OK, possibly because I haven't read Wheel of Time, but shh).

One last thing I want to say. The epilogue. !!! Fans of certain Norse gods will no doubt be pleased. I may have been comparing certain characters to The Almighty Johnsons...

If you enjoyed Gameboard of the Gods, you should definitely pick up The Immortal Crown. The events, and especially characters, of this second book definitely build on what came before. I wouldn't recommend reading book 2 without having read book 1, but it wouldn't be as bad as with some series. I suspect the worldbuilding would be the most confusing to pick up on. There's still a month before The Immortal Crown comes out, so plenty of time to read Gameboard of the Gods if you haven't. This is a great series and I highly recommend it to a variety of SF and fantasy (and science fantasy) fans.

5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2014, Penguin
Series: Age of X book 2 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

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