The boy who might be the key to it all...

After reading and being absolutely obsessed with THRICE, I knew I needed to jump into it's sequel. I honestly meant to get to this several months ago, but at long last I have finally been able to enjoy this new entry into the NEEDLE AND LEAF series. 

5/5 Though things felt slightly hectic at the start, I quickly settled into this delightful follow up to THRICE. I loved spending more time with the characters and found myself appreciating the more complex worldbuilding and higher stakes. 

At it's foundation, NEEDLE AND LEAF is a series about an endearing father and son relationship with found-family themes. The cast this time around combines an assortment of brilliant new characters with a host of familiar faces. While I don't want to spoil all of the returning characters, I will say that I enjoyed having Slant (or Slavint) join Jovan and Leaf for pretty much the entirety of the book. Slant was such an interesting part of the previous book with his roguish ways juxtaposing a degree of integrity that you might not expect, so having him take on so much bigger of a role was a welcome surprise. Leaf (or Illifan) is just as adorable as ever and we learn some rather alarming things about Jovan's past that added some really fascinating layers to the narrative and the worldbuilding. As far as newcomers go, (without getting into specifics) we are introduced to a couple new characters who belong the dwarf-like Dzedza people. They have a culture and customs all their own which were a joy to discover. There is a family who take the group in at one point in the story and getting to know each of them as well as their less wholesome neighbors made for some amazing character moments. Not least of all is the romantic interest that Jovan has this time around. While this isn't the best romance to ever grace fantasy, I found it to be entertaining enough and was glad that it didn't dominate the story. This romantic angle also allowed for some important bits of character building for Jovan. I should also call out that the villains this time around (both new and returning)  were particularly interesting with a couple of them being downright terrifying. 

Similar to the first book, Meredith wastes absolutely no time in getting things going. After a brief establishing scene with Jovan, Leaf, and one of the new Dzedza characters, the arrival of some shady visitors who are searching for Slant sets things into motion for a chaotic first act. Personally, I did find that this opening was a little too hectic. There's a lot to process and very little time to do so, but ultimately these opening moments do set the stage for a tale that was just as entertaining as the first book while managing to tell a much broader and more ambitious story. Travelling across the landscape is much less of a theme than it was in the previous book. The story mainly takes place within two nearby cities and two neighboring farmsteads. Fans of the travel trope might be a little let down by this, but I personally liked that what we got here. I felt as though Jovan and Leaf had a much stronger sense of belonging to the places that they stayed and I think that spending this time getting to know their new home(s) was vital to feeling the full impact of the conflicts that take place. Keeping the gang in specific places for longer also made room to explore some of the secrets of this world a bit more, especially when it comes to its creatures and magic. I wasn't really expecting the stakes to be as high as they were, nor the scope of the storytelling so broad, but I found myself really appreciating these more grandiose aspects. Meredith really managed to ramp things up during the story's big finale and also introduces a new threat that looms on the horizon which I am eager to find out more about. 

The way that Meredith seamlessly handles worldbuilding continues to be one of my favorite things about reading his work. This adventure introduces us to a new portion of the world and although we don't do as much traveling as before, I felt like I somehow managed to get an even better understanding of it as well as the lore. Right out of the gate, we are introduced to the Dzedzen culture and I found the very formal nature of their society to be fascinating. I liked that later on we got other little tidbits about their customs and beliefs. The different religions introduced in THRICE are expanded upon as well. Another aspect of Meredith's work that I so deeply appreciate is how he handles the representation of religion and faith, so seeing these concepts both followed up on and expanded was great. More light is also shed on the mythological aspects of the lore and I was surprised by how tangibly it ended up impacting the core plot. This all leads to some exciting new ideas which the next book will hopefully explore. I will also be interested to see what other parts of the world we will get to see because I really enjoyed the locations that this story took us to.

Similar to the first book, the paperback is well put together although I still feel like the internal margins are just a little stingy. It feels nice in the hand and I love the cover design (as well as how nicely it matches the first book). There may not be anything super fancy going on, but this is one that just looks nice on the shelf and is one I am very happy to own physically.  

If you loved THRICE, then you should absolutely continue the series with FOUR SCORED. The story being told is a little different this time around and whether that is better or worse for you may be up to personal preference. For my part, I very much enjoyed this even if it didn't kick off quite as smoothly as the first book and I am so excited to see where the story will go in the third installment. 

(+) Leaf is still the most precious little boy
(+) Jovan's secret back story 
(+) Slant takes on a much bigger role
(+) Brilliant additions to the cast, world, and overall lore 
(+) The wat the more mythological aspects factor in really caught me by surprise
(+) Higher stakes and terrifying antagonists
(-) I found the beginning chapters to be a little too hectic and the action could be hard to picture/follow at times


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