Book: A Psalm of Storms and Silence (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #2)
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Narrator: AJ Beckles (Malik), Jordan Cobb (Karina), Bahni Turpin (Hyena/Griot)
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Karina, Dedele and Ife talk about the Rite of Renewal
Content Warnings: Self-harm, fantasy violence, emotional and physical abuse, anxiety and panic attacks, grooming and suicidal ideation (taken from Author’s Note at the beginning of the book).
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was one of my favourite books of last year, so naturally I was incredibly excited for the sequel to come out, as I wanted to see what happened next to Karina and Malik. Sadly, this book didn’t quite live up to the first one for me, it was very slow paced and the main plotline felt kind of dragged out. I did still enjoy the characters, but I wanted more from the magic system which I was hoping would be better explained in this book. I also didn’t feel that this book stuck the landing, as the ending was a little too open for me and left too many unanswered questions. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Karina lost everything after a violent coup left her without her kingdom or her throne. Now the most wanted person in Sonande, her only hope of reclaiming what is rightfully hers lies in a divine power hidden in the long-lost city of her ancestors.
Meanwhile, the resurrection of Karina’s sister has spiraled the world into chaos, with disaster after disaster threatening the hard-won peace Malik has found as Farid’s apprentice. When they discover that Karina herself is the key to restoring balance, Malik must use his magic to lure her back to their side. But how do you regain the trust of someone you once tried to kill?
As the fabric holding Sonande together begins to tear, Malik and Karina once again find themselves torn between their duties and their desires. And when the fate of everything hangs on a single, horrifying choice, they each must decide what they value most—a power that could transform the world, or a love that could transform their lives.
I realise I’ve mentioned pacing in every single one of my last few reviews, and yes, I’m going to be talking about it again here because it was my biggest problem with this book as well. Weirdly I had opposite pacing issues with the first book in that I felt it was a little too fast paced. This book goes too far the other way, it’s incredibly slow going, particularly the middle which felt like it dragged out a lot. The main plotline of this book is the Rite of Renewal, and it felt like this was extended beyond its natural end point more than once. It’s a good hundred odd pages longer than the first book, and whilst I wouldn’t say it didn’t need them, I don’t think Brown used the extra length as well as she could have.
I did however really enjoy the narration once again, I would highly recommend doing these books as audiobooks because AJ Beckles and Jordan Cobb do such a good job, they really capture the style and atmosphere of these books perfectly and breathe such life into Karina and Malik. I also thought that Bahni Turpin as the Griot/Hyena was a great addition, I loved the inclusion of the narrator, I thought it was a great touch, and added nicely to the oral storytelling style of this duology.
Malik’s journey with his mental health was one of the highlights of the first book for me, and it continued to be so in this book. It was hard to watch him struggle so much, and his anxiety does get a little overwhelming at times, but it felt like a realistic depiction of mental health struggles and it was really sensitively handled. It’s a lot more intense than the first book though, he does go to some really dark places in this one, so just be aware if anxiety is something that you that struggle with.
Malik and Karina were once again the thing I loved most about this book, Brown has created such flawed, complicated and realistic characters, and I loved getting to follow more of their stories. I felt like they both developed so much as characters throughout this book: Malik overcomes so many of his demons, and it felt like by the end of the book Karina had finally learned her worth, and embraced her powers, so I definitely felt like Brown really did both characters justice with their individual and combined journeys in this book. Malik in particular, he does some heinous things in this book, and finds his newfound power and influence corrupting, and I thought it was really interesting to see how Brown developed that downward spiral and brought him back up. I felt there was quite an interesting contrast between Malik in the first book and Malik here, and I loved that Brown explored a bit more of the darker side of his character in this book.
Karina felt like she grew up a lot over the course of this book, she starts by running away and trying to avoid her problems, but by the end she definitely feels like she has grown into a place where she’s ready to accept her responsibilities and it was really great to see her come to a place of self-acceptance and belief in her own worth by the end of the book. One of the things I really loved which I said I wanted to see in my review of the first book, was seeing Karina face up to what Ziran had done to the other territories in Sonande & start to make amends for that: I wish that it had been a bigger part of the book to be honest.
The end of the first book had Malik trapping the Faceless King, Idir, in his mind and a lot of this book focuses on how that impacts him, but what I wasn’t expecting was how fun the relationship between Idir and Malik would be! Idir added some much needed comic relief to proceedings and he and Malik had some really fun banter.
I wasn’t massively invested in Karina and Malik’s relationship in the first book because it felt very insta-lovey, but I actually liked it a lot more in this book. They definitely had a lot of romantic and sexual tension throughout the book, and I felt like I believed in them a lot more as couple (despite them only interacting in dreams for a good portion of the book!). I particularly loved the emphasis on consent in all of their intimate scenes, it was great to see a YA book showing that, and the fact that Karina stopped when Malik said he was uncomfortable with a particular aspect of intimacy, made me so happy!
It was also really refreshing to have Karina be the more sexually experienced of the two, as it’s almost always the guy who is. She’s not slut-shamed by the narrative for this either, so it’s a win all round!
Malik and Karina’s narratives do feel a lot more intertwined in this book than the first one, but as much as I loved their dream meetings, I do wish they’d come together in person a lot sooner than they did.
This book has a lot more LGBTQ+ characters than the first book which I really appreciated, especially with Ife who uses they/them pronouns and it’s just very casually included in the narrative.
I really appreciated that the content warnings were included in the author’s note at the start once again, on practical level because it makes it much easier for me when I do my reviews, but also because this should be something that is standard!
Brown handles abuse and trauma really well and showed that with Malik in the first book, but something I particularly loved in this book was that she did a really good job of showing through Farid’s treatment of both Malik and Hanane how easily people can be gaslit and groomed by their abusers.
Speaking of Farid, he is categorically THE WORST. He manipulates Malik terribly, and he’s so possessive over Hanane, thinking that he’s entitled to her purely because he likes her and yet he has no regard for how she feels.
I liked getting to see Malik with his sisters more in this book, though I was kind of heartbroken by how their relationship ended up.
I was kind of sad that it took so long for us to see Hanane and Karina together, as I love sister relationships in books, and whilst I did enjoy the content we got with them, I just would have liked to have had more as it was one of the things I was most anticipating after the first book.
There were some really good twists that I wasn’t expecting, particularly in the latter third of the book.
I found this book had quite a few false stops, where we seemed to be coming up on the end of things, and then suddenly something new was thrown up, I definitely think this book perhaps packed in a little too much filler, to the detriment of some important plot points that I’d have liked to have seen explored more (like the relationship between Hanane and Karina).
Given that the entire book builds to the Rite of Renewal, I found that bit surprisingly underwhelming, and honestly slightly confusing as to what actually happened to Karina, Idir and Malik during it. The magic system still isn’t massively well explained, to be honest, I don’t feel like I learned much more about the Ulraji and Zowengi magics in this book than I did in the first book.
Having said that, I did appreciate that the world was expanded more in this book than in the last book, since Karina has left the palace, we get to see a lot more of Sonande and we also get to learn a lot more about Malik and Karina’s ancestry throughout the book too, which I really enjoyed.
I liked the writing style, I found it engaging and vivid, and I loved how it felt like sitting around a campfire listening to a story. I did have one quibble, which was I wished that Brown didn’t refer to characters by their titles all the time, once we know who “the sentinel” or “the princess” is, you can use their name, we don’t need their title 10,000 times!
I really enjoyed the new characters in this like Ife and Caracal, particularly Caracal who had a really fun dynamic with Karina. I do wish both could have been a bit more fleshed out though, and to be honest, the same really goes for most of the characters other than Karina and Malik. I mean obviously your main characters need to be the most fleshed out, but I did wish that some of the side characters like Malik’s sisters had had a little more depth.
It’s really important for a final book in any series to have a satisfying ending, and I just wasn’t satisfied with where this book wound up. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of open endings, and this is one of the most vague, hand waving open ended epilogues that I’ve ever read. There’s so much left hanging, and so many questions left to answer, and rather than feeling like you can make up your own mind as to what happened, it just felt to me like the author couldn’t figure out a proper ending!
Overall, I did enjoy this book for the characters and their amazing development, plus the audiobook narration really made this for me, but sadly in all, it was a slightly underwhelming series finale due to the slow pacing and the less than satisfying ending. I would definitely read more of Roseanne A. Brown’s books in the future though!
My Rating: 3.5/5
My next review will be of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir, I Am Malala. This will be my last backlogged review before I’m completely caught up with what I’m actually reading right now, which means I will have officially caught up with 15 reviews since July once that is posted! I am definitely going to try harder to keep on top of my reviews more next year, because this catch-up has been no joke.