Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: Major nonbinary character
Published on: 16th August 2022
The thrilling follow-up to Nommo Award finalist The Border Keeper
After surviving the schemes of the goddess Fanieq and learning some shattering truths about her former life, the warrior Tyn feels estranged from her role guarding her ruler. Grappling with knowledge of her identity, she unleashes her frustrations on all the wrong people.
When an old enemy returns wielding an unstoppable, realm-crushing weapon, Tyn is swept up in the path of destruction.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~beware places without rules
~suspicious book is suspicious
~put flowers in the skull for luck
~time to take down a god
Second Spear is everything I hoped for from a second visit to the incredible afterlife realm first introduced us to in The Border keeper!
I adored Border Keeper, but I always wanted to see and know more about Mkalis – a world made up of hundreds of strange, magical, intricate realms, each ruled over by a god or demon who can set any rules they please for those who live in or visit their dominion – like not being able to speak lies, or not being able to move in the presence of the Ruler. In Border Keeper we saw beautiful things and grotesque things (and others that were both) but we were viewing it all through the eyes of a visitor. Second Spear, on the other hand, is told from the perspective of Tyn, who has lived in Mkalis for as long as she can remember – which means we get so much more insight into this world than we had before!
The story here opens with Tyn being healed from the injuries she sustained at the end of Border Keeper, and the plot is in direct response to the fallout of what happened in that novella. I’m going to try and write this review without spoiling the specifics of Border Keeper, but bear in mind: this is not a standalone! Second Spear follows on directly from the events of Border Keeper, and you really need to read (or reread) that first before diving into this book!
Now that that’s said: let’s get to it!
I was immediately enchanted by Second Spear: the whole book reads as if Hall wrote it just for me. It opens with a look at (relatively) normal life within Tyn’s home; Tahmais, the City of the Spinelight, capital of the 194th Realm, ruled by the demon Lfae. We finally learn what being Second Spear actually means, and begin to see how the society of the 194th realm is arranged, the community Tyn is an intrinsic part of, with the nonbinary Lfae at the top and the Firsts of each tribe answering directly to said ruler. Glimpses we received in Border Keeper are expanded on here; tantalising hints from the previous book unfold and reveal themselves. What was esoteric and infinitely complicated to the main character of Keeper is Tyn’s daily life, taken for granted. One scene that drives this home pretty well is when the Spears gain a new member: Rion, who has just died in Ahri and been transported to Mkalis for his ‘afterlife’. Rion is, pretty understandably, freaking out, but for Tyn and the others, it’s just another Tuesday.
Lfae’s realm is…well, an idealised fantasy realm, in aesthetic; beautiful and strange, but not so strange as to be uncomfortable or feel alien, watched over by Lfae’s fey mechanical creations. Hall’s imagination and prose is simply breathtaking, and I was entranced by the pictures she painted in my mind as I read;
Curling strips of copper wire and old painted bones hung from the branches. Femurs, vertebrae, ribs, some wrapped in strands of precious stones and pearls. They served as mementos to Spears who had fallen defending Tahmais and Res Lfae.
That’s an effect that lasted throughout the book; Hall freely and deftly unleashes her signature fantasticality on Lfae’s realm and the others explored throughout Second Spear; on the dwellers who live in them and the rulers who rule them, and the complex web of politics, history and magic that connect them all. Outside of Lfae’s realm, this is rarely idyllic; with the flick of a page Second Spear can turn from simple to surprising, exquisite to eerie, delightful to dangerous. A welcome can be a warning, and the most alien-looking creatures can be your best allies. There are twists and turns and tricks as Tyn, Vehn (the leader of the Spears) and Rion try to reach a far-away, closed-off realm in the hopes of recovering a treasure that might be a weapon, one that might help Lfae and the Border Keeper herself in a conflict spun out from the events of the previous book.
Whatever you expect, Hall will find a way to make you gasp at least once – and probably a lot more often than that.
The three-character main cast complement each other wonderfully; Vehn, whose stiff brusqueness obscures a deep well of responsibility, honour, and unthinkable secrets; Rion, who is an unbelievable pest, but grows on you like a fungus and then steals your heart; and Tyn herself, wrestling with revelations and (percieved) failures from Keeper and determined to prove she can do better. Together they make for a very interesting combination, and while I’m not sure they were the best possible team for the job, they’re exactly the right one for the story. I wouldn’t trade any of them in for anyone else.
This is a book I inhaled in a single sitting, immersing myself in Hall’s incredible prose, the magic of Mkalis, and Tyn’s complicated, contradictory inner nature. And I really can’t overstate how ridiculously delighted I was to get to see and explore more of this amazing world Hall’s created; if Border Keeper left you hungry for more insight into the realms, Second Spear is not a book you can skip.
Does this mean we learn all of Mkalis’ secrets? Of course not! It’s not at all clear what the difference is between gods and demons, for example – it’s certainly not as simple as ‘demons bad, gods good’. Nor do we know how souls end up in one realm rather than another – is it random chance, or is there some kind of system? I don’t have a clue, but that’s more than okay: a big part of Mkalis’ magic is its mystery, its secrets, the sense that there will always be something more to discover – that no mortal can possibly comprehend it all. It’s imbued with a sense of gorgeous, ancient majesty, and you know what? I don’t need to know everything. Not this time.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know more, and I’m hopeful, because Second Spear‘s ending definitely leaves open the possibility of more books in this setting.
Regardless, there’s no question: Second Spear is my favourite of Hall’s works so far, and whether it’s in Mkalis or elsewhere, I can’t wait to see what she does next!