Given how Red Queen ended, I was eager to start the second book in the series, Glass Sword. While there were more rough spots in Book Two, it expanded the fictional universe in interesting ways that continued to feed my enthusiasm for the series (Book Three is ready and waiting for me right now). The character studies that develop in this second book also add to the depth of Aveyard’s world and make up for most of the weaknesses in plot or execution that arise.
Mare Barrow and the fallen Prince Cal survived and escaped what were supposed to be their executions. The Red Guard help them to get further away from the newly crowned king’s clutches but both must deal with the betrayals they have suffered at Maven’s hands—and at each other’s. The plan Mare devises for challenging Maven—and distracting herself from all that she’s done to the people around her—is to find, recruit, and train the other “Newbloods” that were on Julian’s list before Maven can find and kill them—or worse.
Glass Sword started on the wrong foot for me. The last book ended with the successful escape and then this book picked up right where it left off but in a profoundly awkward way. The action of them being chased and having a brief fight with Maven’s forces was too much too soon. Maybe it would have worked better going straight from one book into the next but on its own, it didn’t feel earned. To hit the ground running like that was a bold choice and I can certainly understand it, but I think it would have been better to ease the reader back into the characters and the setting more first. Or maybe it’s because the last book seemed to end with them in a relatively safe place; the sudden shift in tone from where I remembered it leaving off was a little too jarring.
Once they escaped that immediate threat, things leveled out considerably. Seeing more of the resistance movement, not just in Norta but from the surrounding nations and the expansive structure of the Red Guard was a wonderful and gradual expansion from the more narrow focus of Book One. Similarly, getting to meet and explore the possibilities of the other Newbloods as Mare and her contingent went off on their own is the kind of world-building I love most. Some of the beats in the plot were predictable and could come across as heavy-handed. There are elements of the novel’s one-two punch climax that felt sacrificed for the sake of the first-person nature of the narration (have I mentioned before that first-person narration, especially in young adult fiction, is a pet-peeve of mine?).
What shines brightest is the emotional complexity of Mare (and several of the other central characters) as they process what they’ve been through, what they’re going through, and what they will have to do if they’re going to succeed in bringing Maven down. Mare struggles to reconcile the Maven she thought she knew with the one she sees now and her feelings for both—not to mention Cal and what she did to him when she was taken in by Maven’s lies. There’s also the guilt and desperation of confronting and appealing to the various Newbloods. Not all of them are eager to join or willing to trust Mare and her companions. She isn’t used to being a leader and fights to find a balance she can live with in the long term.
With the novel’s final pages, there is so much promise for further expansion of Aveyard’s universe in all directions, I’m glad I jumped on the waitlist for it long before I’d finished Glass Sword so I don’t have to wait to dive back into this series.