REVIEW: BONE SHROUD (THE KALLATIAN SAGA #2)
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 This still doesn't click with me in exactly the same way that the author's NEEDLE AND LEAF series does, but I enjoy it a great deal even though other epic fantasies have been hit or miss for me.
As with book one, a huge amount of this story's appeal comes from the in-depth character work. Jined finds himself wrapped up in a conspiratorial schism within his order. Hanen and Ralia work to build up the Black Sentinels in a city where their reputation has been sullied. Katiam's journey takes her down a rather mystical path and Seriah gets caught up in a godly affair. I found the expanded role that Seriah plays to be an interesting addition. I wasn't initially sure how her parts would ultimately connect to the other arcs for each character, but I think she ended up contributing to the overall plot in an interesting way and I enjoyed spending more time getting to know her. Jined continues to be one of the most interesting members of the cast to me and I liked that he has more antagonistic interactions with Dane, who is both fundamentally unlikeable, but also oddly relatable in the sense that I have definitely met people exactly like him. I also enjoyed how his relationship with and understanding of his god develops over the course of the story. I really enjoyed that Hanen and Ralia's chapters became a little more separate. Their sibling relationship is still a focal point and that aspect is developed in some interesting ways ,but I also enjoyed seeing them operate separate from one another as well. Katiam's story takes some interesting turns that I don't want to spoil at all. I feel like her arc gave us a much better glimpse into the mysticism of this world and it was nice to see her come into her own a little as she navigated it all. I also fell in love with the little bipedal dragon-like creatures that dwell within the city. They were an adorable little touch that made things feel that much more fantastical.
Although the last book ended with quite the series of splashes and reveals, this one picks up again after the dust has settled somewhat. The main characters have gone their separate ways and are again sent down individual paths. Things split even further as Hanen and Ralia each have a little more space to operate as individuals and we get to spend more time with Seriah who played a much more minor role in the first book. Some of the interludes give us a bit more insight into what Sern's deal is and I found myself pretty invested in each of their main story beats. I liked that the chapters for each character tended to be clumped together. There are some cases where having the perspective rotate every chapter can work super well, but I think in this case, giving each perspective a few chapters to develop before switching definitely felt like a good call for keeping a good pace and a momentum for the main plot. As with the previous book, there is indeed a central story being formed even if things seem relatively compartmentalized for much of the narrative. The final act didn't necessarily bring everyone physically together like it did previously, but there are a lot of different moving pieces and parts that do converge like Sern's scheming, the schism in the Paladin order, and the more mystical entanglements that Katiam and Seriah are involved in. While I definitely prefer stories where the core narrative is more apparent and central to a book's events, I can also appreciate the craftmanship of the way that Meredith approaches the storytelling for this series. The fact that things are relatively clean, even during the admittedly hectic action scenes, also makes this series easy to recommend to a lot of different readers.
This time around, we get to spend most of our time in the region of this world that our characters were heading to in the previous entry. We get to see a bit more of the city life during the chapters that focused on the Black Sentinels. It was really interesting to delve into the politics of this place and how everything seemed to center around the various guilds that run much of the economy. On the Paladinial side of things, we get to see an enchanting temple as well as more stone monastery-like fortresses. What was most interesting here though was more of the worldbuilding we got for the order itself as well as the rogue branch that conspires to overtake Jined and his fellows. We also get a lot more exposure to the gods which was definitely something I was hoping for after how things ended in Book One. I enjoyed getting to know these deific beings better and it was fascinating to see how they interact with their worshipers as well as those who oppose them in some way or another. Given how relatively grounded this series has been so far, I was a bit surprised by how deeply mystical things got and was not expecting Katiam to end up in an entirely different realm. I think this was a pleasant surprise overall and it left me wondering how these more magical elements might play a part in future books. I also just think it's impressive how much Meredith was able to expand this world even though all the characters don't seem to physically travel all that far.
The author himself returns as the narrator. If you liked his performance in the first book, then I think you will find this outing to be just as good. There are some cool effects that he does for some more mystical-sounding lines of dialogue and I found myself appreciating this experimentation to create a more immersive experience. There's not much more I can say other than that it is just super impressive that the author can pull this off and I think it's cool to hear the audio version exactly as he intends it to be rather than listening to someone's artistic interpretation of someone else's story (not that there's anything wrong with the latter, this is just a novel aspect of this particular audiobook). One drawback of this format though is that Meredith doesn't spoon-feed and he rarely repeats himself. While I generally value those qualities in books, I'm sure that there were some finer details that I missed while listening to this in the car (mental priority goes to the road after all).
If you enjoyed DEATHLESS BEAST, then you absolutely have to pick this one up as well. It has even more great character moments, more exciting action, and more expertly crafted worldbuilding along with a plot that slowly, but meticulously materializes over time.
(+) Characters that are still both likeable and realistic
(+) I even enjoyed the antagonists of this story, often feeling like I could kind of understand where they were coming from even if I still thought they were evil
(+) The way faith is represented is still one of my favorite aspects of this story and I enjoyed how the schism within the Paladin order was handled
(+) Some exciting action sequences to break up the more character-centric moments
(+) The fascinating mythology of this world is expanded upon
(+) Some promising narrative threads that are left open for the next book in the series
(+) A unique fantasy setting that contains wholly original non-human races as well as otherworldly animals
(-) I still prefer stories that have a tighter narrative focus even though I enjoyed this very much
(-) Listening to the audio can sometimes lead to me missing things and briefly getting confused