As with the first book, Smoke & Summons, I received a free eARC from NetGalley and publisher 47North. Like the first book, Myths & Mortals feels like original and competent urban fantasy. Charlie N. Holmberg adds more layers to the saga of Sandis Gwenwig, such as it is. However, this book does little to assuage my grumping from the first book. Another cliffhanger ending, and not all that much development of Sandis’ character either.
Spoilers for the first book but not for this one.
Sandis has successfully escaped Kazen, for now, although he has Rone’s amarinth and the 1-minute immortality it grants every 24 hours. Rone is trying to win his way back into Sandis’ good graces, but it’s not really taking. Sandis is too enamoured of her new uncle, Talbur—or at least, she is for a little bit, until she realizes how cold a man he can be. With nowhere else left to turn, Sandis finds herself throwing in with Rone again. Soon they’re trying to stop Kazen from summoning Kolossos again, with or without whatever allies they can find.
There are some betrayals you can’t come back from, and I’m partly of the mind that Rone’s is one of them. So I like how Holmberg handles Sandis’ reluctance to see Rone again or accept his help. It would have been so jarring if the book had started with Sandis flying back into Rone’s open arms the moment she realizes that Talbur is up to no good. As it is, being forced together by circumstance is believable and interesting. I’m not sure Rone really deserves Sandis’ forgiveness, but at least he’s trying to repent for what he did.
There are some new characters here, like Bastien, and more page time for characters we only really glimpsed in Smoke & Summons. However, these characters don’t receive much in the way of development. Even Bastien seems very stock. He has … some kind of thing with puns? Other than that, he’s a vessel and therefore a convenient plot device for Holmberg to hook Sandis up with Ireth again.
I think when I really stop and ponder why these books don’t excite me more, it has to come back to this problem of characterization. We get a few scenes here from Kazen’s limited third person perspective. While somewhat illuminating, these scenes also portray him as a madman bent on revenge—which he might very well be, at this point. The Angelic is the world’s worst father once again—but then we see him a second time, later in the book, with slightly different behaviour (not necessarily better) without much in the way of setup or prompting. Even the no-good Talbur, whom any reader will peg as a bad dude from the first page, is one-dimensional in that respect.
The whole concept of summoning demons—uh, numina—into vessels is great. From there, Holmberg branches out into similarly interesting lore and ideas. Even the plot itself, although somewhat basic, is stimulating. Alas, the characters just don’t work for me. This doesn’t change by the ending of Myths & Mortals. Once again, not a fan of the blatant cliffhanger ending—although I will say I at least liked this one a good deal.
There are things to like, perhaps even love, about these books. Will I read the third? A definite maybe on that one: whereas I hoped Myths & Mortals might surprise me by being much improved over the first book, it has instead mostly confirmed the mediocrity of this series. Enjoyable enough as a distraction, but I’m not sure I’ll be talking about them that much.