My thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Something Wicked This Way Comes . . .
As a thief, I stick to the shadows as much as possible. But when the head of the Sinclair Family picks me to compete in the Tournament of Blades, there’s no escaping the spotlight–or the danger.
Even though he’s my competition, Devon Sinclair thinks I have the best shot at winning what’s supposed to be a friendly contest. But when the competitors start having mysterious “accidents,” it looks like someone will do anything to win–no matter who they hurt.
As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, mobster Victor Draconi is plotting against Devon and the rest of my friends, and someone’s going around Cloudburst Falls murdering monsters. One thing’s for sure. Sometimes, humans can be more monstrous than anything else…
Scrappy teenager Lila Merriweather is back in action in DARK HEART OF MAGIC, and life seems to be looking up. She’s finally settling into her new life as a member of the Sinclairs – one of the most powerful magical mob families in Cloudburst Falls – and she has a close circle of friends for the first time in forever. And to make matters even more interesting, Lila has enough stability and free time in her life now to actually examine her feelings for Devon Sinclair, the cute guy with a heart of gold she’s been hired to bodyguard.
But while Lila’s life may seem great from the outside, and she may seem cool and calm on the surface, inside she’s burning with the desire for revenge against Victor Draconi, the man who murdered her mother and left her an orphan. Everyone knows that he’s up to something, but if the Families are caught investigating then they’ll have an all-out war on their hands. Enter Lila, resident thief and trespasser extraordinaire! There are quite a few fun scenes in DARK HEART OF MAGIC where Lila skulks around town on various reconnaissance missions to suss out Victor’s undoubtedly nefarious plans. I really enjoyed the moments where Lila uses her thief skills to scale walls, pick locks, and harness her magical Talent to detect traps.
Unfortunately for Lila however, she can’t devote all of her time and energy to bringing down the Draconis. Cloudburst Falls is abuzz with activity as residents and tourists alike prepare to enjoy the Tournament of Blades, a competition that pits the Families against each other in a battle of wits, will, and magic. And of course, Lila has been tapped to participate in the Tournament. Because she’s the protagonist.
As if fighting dozens of other gifted Family members weren’t enough, Lila also has to deal with a mysterious saboteur whose desperation to win the Tournament – and the prize money and prestige that victory brings – may cost some people their lives. Although I enjoyed reading about the Tournament itself, I found the ultimate outcome of the Tournament to be very predictable. The stakes were not high enough in my opinion, and I thought it was very obvious which two competitors would be facing off in the final round. Since it was such a huge part of the book, I expected more twists and turns! The obviousness of it all made me want to grab Lila by the shoulders and give her a good shake, because I felt like she needed to get a clue and figure out what was so clearly going on around her.
Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many amazing YA novels this year (Bitterblue, Walk on Earth a Stranger, The Rest of Us Just Live Here) with both wonderful writing and compelling plot lines. Maybe it’s because the fascinating monsters in Cloudburst Falls played such a minor role in this book when compared to the first. But for whatever reason, DARK HEART OF MAGIC didn’t impress me nearly as much as the series debut did less than a year ago. I’m going to chock it up to a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” or more accurately, “I’ve changed and you stayed the same.” My reading tastes have changed quite a bit over the last year, and I think I’ve become more critical of the books that I receive for review. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that some of the series I once really enjoyed have become solidly average books for me.
Despite my disappointment with this instalment in Estep’s Black Blade series, I still plan to read the final book when it’s released. A major conflict between the Families is inevitable, and I’m sure that the final book in the trilogy will see Lila and the rest of the Sinclairs up against the Draconis in an epic magical battle. I’m invested enough in these characters that I want to see how it all pans out, but admittedly my expectations are lower than I would like.
What are your thoughts on disappointing second books in trilogies – do they deter you from completing the series? Have your reading tastes changed at all in 2015? Sound off in the comments!