This second book in the Twelve Houses series was one I desperately wished could have been skipped, but it was necessary to read it. There is some truly wonderful character interaction and development for Justin and Cammon, and we meet Amalie at last (and what an intriguing, fascinating character) and we see more of Valri (she has to be Lirren!), which is cool, and Senneth and Tayse are with the group. Donnal and Kirra are there as well and they all make the social rounds as they escort Amalie to all the Houses for balls and parties, introducing her into society and all. The book is highly political, which makes it feel a lot longer than it is, but I really like the core group and how they act around one another and what they mean to each other, which is why Kirra's actions throughout were very disturbing. I loved Casserah! Her relationship to Kirra and her very unique personality, which could have been dull and cold came across as intense, focused, calm, loving and loyal, and so very fiercely autonomous. Irrespective of all other opinions and strictures, she just is herself, more so than Kirra I felt, whose acceptance among the Houses controls her behavior more than once in the book.
Overall, Amalie is getting out and being seen and people want to kill her and/or the regent. Lots of attacks, they are all fended off, Kirra's uncle is the ringleader, Kirra is displaced as heir so Casserah is now to take over Danalustrous when the ever amazing Malcolm should step down, Halchon gets off his property and harasses Amalie and Senneth, though Amalie manages both him and his sister Coralinda beautifully and so understatedly just dismisses them, making it clear she has no fear of them. War is still looming by the end.
Kirra is attracted to Romar, the regent-to-be for his niece Amalie, and he in turn, married just a year, is clearly attracted to her. And do they say,"Well, here is a disaster waiting to happen. We should probably stay away from private dalliances and flirting every time we see each other, shouldn't we?" No, instead, they flirt half the book, then enter into an affair that lasts until the very last chapter. There are so very many things about this that bothered me. First of all, Romar is married! And the man who would be regent, the man everyone blathers on and on about being honourable and just and such a good man, is betraying his wife over and over and over. What sort of man with any honor would act in such a way? He himself says he would never harm his loved ones for anything less than the greater good of the kingdom, but he turns around and has an affair that it is made clear is injuring his wife deeply - a woman who loves him and has never done anything other than be an exemplary wife. The man is a first-rate coward and cretin and clearly, despite his protestations that he "loves" Kirra, he just wants to have her for sex. I am sorry to be so blunt, but they never talk - they just "make love". Romar has no concern for her emotional well-being (never mind his WIFE'S), but only wants to spend every possible moment with her making out. He makes it clear he will never leave his wife(Oh, he is too HONOURABLE to do something like THAT), but that he and Kirra can "be together" as much as possible, by which he means that anytime they are in the same vicinity they'll spend the night "in each other's arms". This man has no true love or concern for either woman - his wife or his mistress. He'll use them both and ultimately cares only for sating his desire for Kirra, not his love. By the end of this book I never wanted to hear the word love used again. Listening to these two misuse the word to cover their own selfish, disgusting behavior was so sickening. I wanted to yell at them the whole time to suck it up and call it what it was. So, yeah, no respect for either of those two, especially for Kirra whom up to that point I had actually liked. Which it made it all the worse. But she used her "I am an independent, restless, passionate soul" and the "I'm in looooooove" cards to excuse her behavior in willfully engaging in an illicit liaison with a man she knew was married (as happily as a man with such a screwed up personality - one which clearly was all about him - was ever going to be). She knew it was wrong, she says as much when she realized she was attracted to him, but she does it anyway and once she is in it and it just feels so good, her desires and her "need" for Romar is just so strong and suddenly it is "Love you haters and how can you deny me Love? How? How dare you have anything to say to me? I am a free spirit so you can't tell me what to do! I love him! I don't care who it hurts!" And Justin tries to tell her. Even Tayse. I was quite proud of them. Esp. Justin for calling her on it and telling her this was wrong and that she, who she really was, was lost on this path she was choosing. And Justin's whole conversation with her (chapter 32) was surprising but very needed. I was so proud of him for saying it and truly trying to help Kirra even when he knew she would just throw it back in his face. Donnal at least had the self-respect to get away from her (sort of). But Cammon and Senneth were just all sympathetic and I was pretty thoroughly fed up with that attitude. I wanted them to at least say something to her, anything rather than just comforting her whenever she was upset or saying, "Oh, this will hurt you down the road, I wish you would not put yourself through this." Yeah, true, but just reinforces the self-centered, bratty behavior that got her to that position, as if her wants and feelings are the end all and be all. There were larger things at stake and for Cammon and Senneth to be so absent from being a part of pointing that out was wrong. And then there was the whole Donnal and Kirra situation. He loves her and she just treats him like dirt, like a plaything. She takes him for granted and refuses to love him in return b/c of the disparity in their social positions and she could not bring herself to be ostracized by her peers for such a relationship. Real independent and free-spirited. Yeah. More like cowardly and pathetic. And that whole situation is never really resolved with Donnal, which I think really needs to be addressed. I just hated how horrible Kirra and other characters were throughout, masking their petty, nasty behavior in empty terms of love and care and concern and I hated how that changed my view of them. A lot of anger and frustration. So, this had a few really good moments in overall series plot story, but personally was very painful and aggravating to read and I doubt if I will ever be able to see the characters in the same way again. And I really doubt I'll read this again if I can possibly avoid it.
Advisory: Mature content. Desire to injure fictional characters may occur.