REVIEW: DEAD STARS PART TWO (EMANESKA #4)
HOW I RATED IT
2/5 While there is some deeply compelling stuff to be found here, I felt as though all of this series' best ideas are ultimately buried under Farden's personal journey which I still just wasn't able to connect with.
I think starting with the plot makes the most sense for this entry since it is the aspect of the book that I came in with the most expectations for. After not being fully satisfied with how things went in DEAD STARS PART ONE, I was hoping for the second part of this epic story to deliver an explosive final conflict between Farden's allies and the daemonic forces summoned by Samara. While there are definitely some action-packed scenes where good and evil collide, this conflict is largely reserved for brief battle scenes during the book's final act. Instead, the bulk of the narrative sees Farden assembling a team to try to rescue Elessi from the clutches of death. I'd initially assumed the simple setup would serve as a temporary side quest where Farden would rediscover his old self while chasing down this MacGuffin. As it turns out, his mission takes multiple twists and turns and ultimately takes center stage for pretty much the entirety of the book. While we do check in with Samara and Lilith from time to time and I found their quieter moments really interesting, I felt like it was a huge shame that they spent so much time just wandering the wilderness and only collide with the main cast toward the end. The political coup in Krauslung was also quite interesting, but this was again overshadowed by the plot to save Elessi. Loki's plotline is a little less buried given how closely he sticks around Farden, but the true nature of his scheme is never really revealed as it is seemingly being saved for another book. I was also less enthusiastic about the flashback sequences from the distant past. It wasn't totally clear to me how Korrin became so drastically different from the character we knew previously (other than maybe the "absolute power corrupts absolutely" concept) and overall, I just felt like the Scalussen Nine were a far less interesting version of The Knights Radiant from THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE.
The biggest part of why the plot probably did not land for me is that I just don't really like Farden. I don't necessarily hate him, it's just that there is nothing about him that I connect with and I felt as though the rest of the cast uplifts him in a way that his actions don't really deserve. That's a rather harsh opinion to be sure, but after all the problems he's created, all the horrible things he did while in exile, and his habit of whining about how hard his life is or getting snappy whenever someone calls him out made him a very hard sell for me as a hero. I do get that the idea is that he's a deeply flawed individual with some serious vices and self-destructive tendencies, I just didn't feel that he had enough redeeming qualities to balance things out. Him and Tyrfing continue to have a somewhat inconsistent relationship and I didn't really get why both of them were so outwardly cruel towards Loki. Sure, Loki is kind of that guy in the group that likes to stir the pot a bit, but I felt like it was the cruelty and disrepect shown towards him that ultimately drives him down his less than savory path. I'm not sure if I was supposed to like and sympathize with Loki more than Farden, but I can say that I definitely did. Lerel, Samara, Lilith, and the introduction of the goddess Hel made for a much stronger female presence this time around and I found myself genuinely invested in their arcs. Elessi being MIA for most of the story was mostly a net-positive for me though the lack of chemistry or tenderness between her and Farden in previous books made it difficult for me to feel too invested in his mission to save her. The fact that this quest takes so long also meant that Farden's internal journey of "finding himself" once again was prolonged much longer than I wanted it to be. To end on a positive note, Illios is still a precious treasure and the dragons are all still awesome.
Overall, the landscape of Emaneska is still one of the series' strongest points for me. This time around, we get even more worldbuilding by way of travelling to the frosty northern regions where both the dragons and men are far more savage and the terrain is much less forgiving. After the dragons being absent from the previous book, it was nice to see that side of the world play a significant part again. I liked the more nautical aspect of this book more than I thought I would as well. I don't read a ton of nautical fantasy and I wouldn't necessarily say that this would fall fully into that subgenre, but I liked the aspect of sailing from one location to another as well as the moments where the gang are just interacting on the ship. The more mythological aspects are where I really got hyped up though. There isn't a whole ton of lore added in terms of the nature of the gods or the daemons, but what nuggets we do get are pretty interesting. Galley's depiction of the Norse underworld is strikingly grotesque in a way that felt true to the myths while also also being surprising and fresh. I really just ate all of this up as well as any of the more cosmic tidbits we got, but I was also left feeling a little confused about how much this was really supposed to connect to the Norse myths as we know them. The book's epilogues seem to promise even more expansion of these elements, though I don't think I will necessarily be diving right into the other series that is set in this world.
I mainly consumed this story via the audio format, largely just due to having another busy month and wanting to be able to fit this in amid a lot of travel. There isn't much more I can really say on the quality of the audiobook or it's narrator. It's technically well produced, but the performance itself didn't do a whole lot for me. The one thing I will say is that Tyrfing's voice is distinctly less grating this time around, which was a huge relief considering how much he factors into the story.
DEAD STARS PART TWO is largely a victim of my own misaligned expectations and inability to connect with Farden on a level that I needed to in order for his hero's journey to land. If you've been absolutely loving the series so far, then I think you will like this conclusion well enough. If you have been more lukewarm on it until now, or more hot and cold like me, then this may or may not be a satisfying end to the Emaneska quartet for you.
(+) Beatufully described scenery and some interesting locals, including some mythological locations.
(+) The supporting cast remains one stronger points of the series for me.
(+) There are some short, but exciting action scenes
(+) The female characers are much more interesting this time around thanks to Lilith, Samara, Leral and Hel overtaking this part of the cast.
(-) I felt as though the majority of the story was focused on a side quest and that the ultimate showdown with Samara was hasty, anticlimactic, and empty.
(-) The most interesting concepts and subplots are either buried by Farden's adventure or left open ended to serve as teases for future books set in this world.
(-) I left feeling confused about how this series really connects to Norse Mythology (or if it is really meant to).
(-) The flashback scenes and Korrin's character development didn't land super well for me.
(-) Farden still isn't a character that I could connect with in the way that I needed.
(-) The audio is technically sound and Tyrfing's voice is MUCH better, but this still not a performance that I'd particularly recommend.
(-) An ending that didn't really satisfy me.
(-) A barrage MCU-style epilogue scenes that hint at the future of the universe left me feeling kind of cheated.