The much-maligned second part of a trilogy has a reputation for letting the original work down by stretching out the narrative without a substantial payoff, instead doing little more than biding its time for the finale. Despite this reputation, there are exceptions to the rule: The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight and The Godfather Part II are all the strongest parts in their respective trilogies (and yes, they’re films; I’m struggling to find book examples). I won’t add Secrets of the Sorcery War to that list just yet; the third book in Elise Carlson’s Ruarnon Trilogy isn’t due out until next year, and it may, in fact, eclipse this sophomore effort. Regardless of that hypothetical, Secrets of the Sorcery War improves upon the wonderful Manipulator’s War (you can see how wonderful by reading my review), and the prequel novella, Rebellion is Due (yes, I have a review for that, too).
Given my love of Manipulator’s War, I had high hopes for Secrets of the Sorcery War; hopes that weren’t just met, but eclipsed. Upon opening the book in my trusty eReader to be greeted by a map of Umarinaris and the book’s Dramatis Personae (now sitting at forty characters, above the last book’s thirty-eight, although some are only referenced in the book), my mind shot back to the author’s world and its characters, in preparation for my return. As the first paragraph in the first chapter, “The Urai,” reintroduces protagonist Ruarnon and establishes their character, I was hooked.
Once again, Ruarnon is a delight to read. They are a multifaceted character that the reader cannot help but enjoy following. As heir to the Tarlahn throne, Ruarnon feels the need to live up to their parents, while still growing into their own person. They are young, but wise for their years, without a hint of obnoxiousness. Ruarnon isn’t the only character who delights; Secrets of the Sorcery War is full of three-dimensional characters who populate it. Some are more likeable than others, but no character feels underwritten. The Australians who populate the book, courtesy of being transported to Umarinaris in the first book, are particularly well-written. As with that book, Linh is the book’s secondary protagonist, and also a wonderful character. Like Ruarnon, she is wise beyond her years without any obnoxiousness, and interacts with characters from both worlds incredibly well. As these two worlds interact, the dialogue works well. Every character sounds unique and they all like they come from different places, whether it’s Australia, Tarlah, Zaldeaa, or elsewhere. The dialogue all blends together well, and never feels disjointed. Each of the Australian teenagers sounds both realistic and natural. This serves the book well, as it’s a portal fantasy aimed at a young adult audience. While Secrets of the Sorcery War (and the Ruarnon Trilogy as a whole) evokes The Chronicles of Narnia, it benefits modern audiences by featuring modern characters who the audience can relate to.
Another relatable aspect in Secrets of the Sorcery War—which can’t be understated, nor should it be—is its LGBTQI+ representation. Ruarnon is a nonbinary character, who uses they/them pronouns, and doesn’t identify as any gender. Linh is an asexual character with no interest in either the opposite, or same, gender. As the novel’s two lead characters, it is fantastic seeing two underrepresented facets within the LGBTQI+ rainbow featured so prominently. These are just aspects of these multifaceted characters and are treated as such. While Ruarnon’s gender identity plays into other characters’ perceptions of them, Carlson doesn’t preach to the reader, but instead presents all characters under the same umbrella of humanity.
Humanity plays a pivotal role in Secrets of the Sorcery War. While its protagonist hails from Tarlah, and its major supporting characters come from Australia, and these characters are firmly on one side of a war, the novel recognises that in war, people on all sides are human. While there is less of a focus on the horrors of war than Manipulator’s War, the author uses this second book to put a stronger focus on the fact that no matter what side they’re fighting for, these characters are human. Although this is a fantasy book about war, it doesn’t glorify it; instead, it shows the messiness of it.
The themes present in Secrets of the Sorcery War are well-developed and resonant. While it’s a young adult book, it doesn’t shy away from presenting its themes with a mature lens. At an estimated 403 pages on your favourite eReader (although, upon release, the paperback will be 384 pages), it may be slightly shorter than its predecessor, but it remains longer than average for its target audience. Yet this length works in the book’s favour, enabling it to explore its themes while telling an in-depth story. If you’re considering this book—or, more importantly, the series—for a younger reader, it’s worth noting that while it explores its themes maturely, some of its themes are mature, that it features a small amount of swearing, and as a book about war, it unsurprisingly features violence. However, none of these aspects are remotely egregious, and its content is truly appropriate for its target audience. With the mature view it takes, the author doesn’t underestimate their audience, yet includes an underlying air of positivity (the book even features the occasional educational moment peppered into it, without it feeling like it’s forcing lessons down the reader’s throats). Older readers of YA books will also find a lot to love here, thanks to its maturity and presentation.
As long as this book is, the prose is incredibly easy to read and accessible for younger readers, to the point where it feels shorter than the page count would suggest. The prose flows together beautifully, conveying all the information needed to transport them into the book’s world. There are great turns of phrase throughout it, and entertaining usage of the English language throughout, resulting in a feel that is entirely enjoyable.
The book’s plot is great, and it will engross readers, regardless of whether they’re younger or older readers. The turns are all enjoyable, and as the story continues, it evokes more of a threat. It is largely fast-paced, but the pacing slows down where it needs to. The result is a fantasy plot that comes together wonderfully as it tells a great story.
As the second part in a trilogy, Secrets of the Sorcery War is a book that doesn’t entirely stand alone. As it picks up a few weeks after Manipulator’s War, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book. If readers haven’t read the first book, they might find themselves a bit lost, particularly early on. With that said, the reader should get caught up reasonably quickly. While the book still feels like a full story, it’s also worth noting that the ending builds to the next book.
If you’re a fantasy fan, a young adult fan, or simply enjoy entertaining books, Secrets of the Sorcery War is a thoroughly entertaining read, thanks to a great plot, entertaining characters, and resonant themes. I’d strongly recommend reading the original book first, but regardless, this novel is superb. If I had to pick a negative, it’s that book three, War in Sorcery’s Shadow, isn’t due for release until next year.
Linh gaped. A thrashing human rose above the damars, kicking and twisting as his body floated in mid-air over the writhing grey mass. Fire flared before him, streaking through the air in multiple lines and Linh stopped breathing. The fire halted inside the gorans on Linh’s right, before a figure in shining bronze armour, whose long red hair blew in the wind. A human. Their arms were outstretched, a white shield emanating from them. When the flames neared, white mist engulfed them and smoke puffed up through it, clearing to nothing. A human sorcerer fighting for Cauldron Island?Secrets of the Sorcery War: Ruarnon Trilogy, Book 2, Chapter 6: “Cauldron Island’s Secrets”
Secrets of the Sorcery War: Ruarnon Trilogy, Book 2 was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Secrets of the Sorcery War is available in eBook from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon). A paperback version will be released in the near future.
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Interested in purchasing Secrets of the Sorcery War?
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Secrets of the Sorcery War: Ruarnon Trilogy, Book 2