I don’t love this book as much as I love The Goblin Emperor, but that would be very difficult, and there is a lot to love about this book all the same. It follows Thara Celehar, and has very little to do with the first book, except in expanding what Celehar does and showing us his witnessing first hand. It also expands the world far beyond the court, so that we get to see how ordinary people live and interact — a thing which Maia will never, ever see, and which I think he would find fascinating.
The book is a murder mystery, essentially — actually, several — and also features more directly obvious magic than in the first book. There are ghouls and ghosts, and Celehar’s ability to commune with the dead is also a much bigger part. Inevitably, the various stories come together to some degree, but it doesn’t come together in too neat a knot; they aren’t all related. (For fellow mystery fans, I have to say that I don’t think you can actually work this one out for yourself; we don’t have enough information about a particular character to be able to discern their motive, means or opportunity.)
Celehar is just as tortured a character as he seemed from the previous book, and it should be noted that (in this book at least) there’s comparatively little comfort for him. There is a short scene where another character does manage to lighten the burden of his conscience, and he also makes a friend… though the friendship — and the potential that it could be more — also frightens him, because he isn’t over the secret he confesses to Maia in The Goblin Emperor. If you’re looking for something that feels as hopeful as The Goblin Emperor, then this isn’t it; Celehar is deeply guilty, and though his care for his work and his compassion for the dead are as sincere as Maia’s goodness, he is not driven by the same need to be mindful, to be good. He’s a very different character, and it gives the book a different mood and flavour.
In a way, this is a mash-up of Addison’s other books, The Goblin Emperor and The Angel of the Crows, and I don’t love it quite as much as either. I think it suffers somewhat from brevity — at 275 pages, I was wondering how it could possibly be tied up by 314 pages, and the answer is that a couple of the story threads feel rushed — but despite that, I liked it a lot.