Review: The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

Thursday, May 1, 2014
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: supernatural, dystopian
Series: Age of X #2
Pages: 432
Published: Expected May 29, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Vampire Academy and Bloodline series returns with the second installment in her acclaimed Age of X series.

Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect—special humans marked by the divine—are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin’s old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA’s dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.

Meanwhile, Mae—grudgingly posing as Justin’s concubine—has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter’s connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission—and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.

Reviewed by Danielle

The Immortal Crown is everything I wanted from Gameboard of the Gods, and more. More supernatural powers, tighter mystery, more romantic tension, a reason for the third POV to exist. It’s one of the rare sequels that truly enhances and exceeds its predecessor.

This time around, Justin and his supersoldier bodyguard, Mae, are warned that they’re about to become embroiled in a “war of the elect”. While neither is sure what that means, it’s pretty obviously something not. good. So when Lucian Darling has the brilliant idea of taking them to Arcadia, a fundamentalist theocracy, as part of a goodwill delegation, Justin’s adamantly not interested. Unfortunately, Mae, and their respective deities, have other plans for our heroes.

Arcadia is terrifying. Nehitimar, (interestingly, the only god so far not from traditional mythology,) takes the worst of all the Abrahamic religions’ ideals and wraps them in even more misogyny and violence. Add in a crazy and dangerous Pope Grand Disciple with a highly magnetic religious artifact and you have a powder keg. Reading the physical and sexual abuse women suffer in this land is hard, and you should know you’re signing up for a sub-plot about sex trafficking. Yet, I appreciated that there is some shades of grey in the two countries. Arcadia may be backwards and violent, but RUNA’s hardly innocent, as we’re reminded that the initial secession was due to their forced breeding programs after Mephistopheles.

Meanwhile, Tessa’s plot is separate from Justin and Mae’s, but far more successful than in book one. She’s still obsessed with Gemman media and takes an internship with a reporter to learn more about the subject. This internship leads her to a conspiracy that might implicate important RUNA politicians in secretly engaging in religious worship. While investigating this lead, we finally get to see Tessa as Justin’s protege, and see more of Gemman daily life without the “wide eyed foreigner” thing that bothered me in the first book. Though the plots converge at the end, it makes a lot more sense for her to be doing something completely different and I felt like we actually got to know the character.

There’s a lot more magic this time around, which was mostly good. I’m going to need some parameters in the next book, because, especially at the end, people pull out some full on swords and sorcery shit, in what had previously been sci-fi with magic aspects. It works while the characters don’t understand the magic system either, but pretty soon we’re both going to need to learn its limits. Some of the “just have faith” messages got a little hokey, but for the most part I liked the way the gods interacted with their subjects. And that brings us to the climax. Fairly major plot spoilers below.

Credit to expostninja on Tumblr

If you can’t think of a better way to make your female lead vulnerable than rape, you need to stop and do re-writes. If you can’t think of a better way to drive the romantic leads apart than rape, you need to just stop.

Especially considering Mae was raped prior to book one already, had a very emotional scene, (complete with flashbacks,) dealing with the possibility of being raped again when she first met the Grand Disciple, there is no excusable reason to have her raped a second time to end this book. It’s never a good plot point. I understand the plot called for her to have a crisis of faith that would allow a chaotic entity to step in, and I’m interested in seeing where that goes, but there has to be another way to do it. And frankly, the reveal of who it was felt convenient and muddied both the plot and the magic system.

I really love this book and I’m disappointed that it and my review end on such a sour note. I hope the next book can recapture the excitement and intrigue of the first 400 pages, but I don’t think we’re in the right place going forward.

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