Book Review: Godsgrave
Fun story: in a roundabout way, I managed to acquire a copy of Godsgrave before its release. A friend from college also reviews books (though in a more official capacity for an actual publication), and she received a review copy in the mail. She can't review everything she receives, and she decided to give this away to any of her Facebook friends who wanted it. Flash forward a week, and a lovely signed edition of Godsgrave showed up in my mail. After thoroughly enjoying Nevernight last year, I tore through Godsgrave within a few days.
Some time has passed since the end of Nevernight, and Mia Corvere is doing good work as an assassin for the Red Church. After an encounter with a figure from her past leads to the realization of corruption deep within the Red Church, Mia formulates a plan to end Scaeva: sell herself into slavery as a gladiator, win the republic's biggest gladiatorial contest, and kill him when he presents the prize. But as with any plan, there are complications, including rival gladiator colleges, political intrigue, and another darkin who'd gladly see Mia dead.
Mia is as wonderful to read as ever, and once again the secondary characters largely take a backseat to her. We get more of her internal conflict here, as she struggles to strike a balance between the ruthlessness she needs to achieve her goals and the compassion she feels for the slaves whose ranks she has joined. She also learns considerably more about what darkin are in this book; though most of these come in the form of one-off lines and small hints, careful readers will have enough information at this point to make a good guess as to why darkin exist (and we'll see if we're right when the third book comes out).
The secondary characters are a mixed bag. I quite liked Ashlinn in Nevernight, so I wasn't displeased that she returns here. However, the romance between Ashlinn and Mia seemed a bit forced, in places. I find it hard to believe that Mia would so easily get over the murder of Tric, especially when the book rehashes her feelings for him at the beginning. I fully expected to hate Sidonius, based on his early scenes, but he warms into a fun, sidekick-type character for Mia pretty quickly, complete with a backstory that ties him to her.
But the rest of the new characters are largely meh. Dona Leona and her executus weren't particularly interesting, despite Kristoff's best efforts to make them somewhat sympathetic. Furian, the new darkin, is a rather flat, annoying character, unbending in his rules and bearing little sympathy for Mia despite their shared ancestry. If, like me, you enjoyed the Red Church characters from Nevernight, such as Adonai and the shahiids, you're going to be disappointed here - they barely feature.
Kristoff makes up for that by coming armed to the teeth with plot. It's simple, but it packs a wallop due to its nature. Gladiator fights have become something of a trope in fantasy fiction over the last couple years, and yet I never seem to get tired of it. Perhaps that's because of the quality. Case in point: Kristoff writes excellent action sequences, and he puts those skills to use here with a series of escalating gladiator battles (the retchworm fight is particularly memorable in its twistedness, doubly so for Kristoff essentially roasting himself in the narrator's footnotes).
And Mia's plan, as outrageous as it seems, sort of works - sort of. There's a couple of large twists toward the end, including one that I wasn't expecting and genuinely surprised me. The ending will have readers riveted to their seats, eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
At the end of the day, I still think I preferred Nevernight, if only because I liked the supporting cast, Mia as the underdog and the "magic school" trope a little more. But Godsgrave is still highly entertaining and left me craving more. I'll be keeping an eye out for the next book.