Featured Review: The Cruelest Mercy (Natalie Mae)
About This Book:
After surviving the Crossing, Zahru has sworn off adventures. While Crown Prince Jet navigates the looming threat of war, she's content to simply figure out what the future holds for them. But they're dealt a devastating blow when prince Kasta returns with a shocking claim: he's the true winner of the Crossing and the rightful heir, and he bears the gods' mark as proof. Even more surprising—he's not the only one.
Somehow, Zahru possesses the very same mark, giving her equal right to the throne. The last thing she wants is to rule beside her would-be executioner, but she can't let Orkena fall into his merciless hands. So Zahru, Jet, and their allies must race against the clock to find a way to stop Kasta, because once he's crowned, there's no telling what horrors he'll unleash to win the war.
Zahru will do whatever it takes to keep Kasta from taking the throne...but to stop a villain, is she willing to become one herself?
*Review Contributed by Olivia Farr, Staff Reviewer*
THE CRUELEST MERCY is an intriguing second book in an enthralling YA fantasy series. After the rush and danger of the competition in the first book, Zahru is happy to have survived. She has returned to the capital to see Jet crowned as the next Mestrah or ruler of Orkena. From the near-sacrifice, Zahru has a remaining bruise that she soon realizes is actually the symbol that identifies her as the next ruler. She plans to keep silent about this until the coronation is broken up by Kasta, who has miraculously returned, and who also mysteriously has the mark.
Knowing that Kasta is full of lies and tricks, Zahru reveals her mark to contest his claim to the throne and delay his coronation. The current Mestrah, Kasta and Jet's father, delays the coronation and states that they should work together to rule during a probationary period of a moon. If one of them is unable to do so, they will be relegated to advisor while the other rules.
Zahru begins to question everything she knows about herself, her kingdom, and her ethics as she seeks to figure out the plots behind Kasta's reappearance and his plan for their country.
What I loved: This world is beautifully imagined, and the magic and related magic-based caste system is really thought-provoking. The writing pulls the reader into the story and has them questioning Zahru as she questions herself and what she believes to be true. Whether Kasta is back with good intentions or not is a constant unknown that fluctuates with what they know and believe. The twists that this second story takes keep the reader on their toes.
There are some interesting themes around trust, personal ethics, and revenge that I found to be thought-provoking. Zahru knows Kasta as the boy who grew up learning to twist everything to survive and gain love, but she also knows him as the man who marked her for sacrifice and then actually sacrificed her. As she tries to wrap her head around these two aspects of his personality and stop his ascent to the throne, she must determine how much of her actions are for revenge and which parts of herself and her ethics she is willing to let go of in the quest for it. Zahru's personality is not yet set in stone, and she is reaching to identify herself and what she wants most while she also attempts to expose Kasta and prevent his ascent to the throne.
The romance in this book was almost non-existent, but I did not miss it too much, though I hope we'll get more insight and resolution in the next book. I did really appreciate how most of the major questions in this book were answered by the end of it, though there is certainly more to come. This helped the book to not feel so much like a middle story, but I am still eager to read the next!
Final verdict: Atmospheric, twisty, and engaging, THE CRUELEST MERCY weaves a YA fantasy with compelling characters, thought-provoking themes, and intriguing world-building. A solid sequel to the first, readers will definitely be eager to continue this series with the next! Highly recommend this series for fans of THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, THE RED QUEEN, and AN EMBER IN THE ASHES.
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