This was true .
There was a lot of highlighting going on...A LOT...I personally feel like you can't get an accurate grip on the book's tone/awesomeness/horrific mess if you don't get to ingest snippets of the author's thoughts verbatim. Soooooo be prepared for a lengthy, unabridged, quote filled, fangirl review....you have been warned :-)
"Soldier... Sorcerer... Savior... Who is Vhalla Yarl? Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?" Will she learn her worth? “Even something very small can cast a large shadow when it is close to the sun.”
So here we find ourselves at the beginning, the very precipice of all that is possible for our budding warrior/lover/kick a$$ heroine and her band of loyal friends (dare there be a case of More Than Friends??), sworn enemies (with some nasty new ones peppered about) and all sorts of action. Even though there was a considerable amount of action, the tempo was a bit slower than Air Awakens which caused a slight drag at times. Meaning, I didn't inhale it in just one sitting as was the case with book #1. Where was she at mentally in the beginning of the book?
"The time for sadness and pity was over. The girl who had come to the palace at eleven and lived her life in the library was dead; she’d been killed by the Senators whom she’d always been taught were sworn to protect her. The woman sitting in the saddle now had to find a heart crafted of black steel. She had to survive if for no other reason than to spite the world."
She was torn apart and looking for something to hold onto, to keep her from scattering to the wind. She was relying heavily on her friends and she couldn't even begin to fathom the possibility of things getting any worse....boy was she naive....naive yes but equally determined to toughen up and prove almost everyone else wrong about her.
This book saw not only Vhalla's personal growth but her supporting relationships underwent some very remarkable developments as well. Vhalla Yarl started out (and continued to be throughout) broken and Serien was born from the ashes only to have Vhalla be reborn anew, mimicking the plight of the Phoenix.
"There was something severed and rough about her, something tainted and, yet, at the same time those jagged pieces were the makings of something fearsome. She’d wanted to become someone the Senate would fear. Why not shatter the sky?
What were Vhalla's thoughts on the relationship she was cultivating with the tormented but loyal, swoon worthy yet aloof Aldrik?
"His silver tongue licked across her intellect, wetting her mental palate for new information."
"Vhalla remembered his words and she gave into it, into him, letting the wave crash upon her. There was one inhale, one exhale, one heartbeat between them. She melted into the strange warmth of the communal existence, relinquishing the last of her physical senses. It was unlike anything she had ever felt. Like life and death all bundled neatly into one moment of beauty. She tried to find where her own self ended, to find where he began, but there were no ends or beginnings anywhere. They were infinite."
This is a great explanation of where Vhalla was at but where did Vhalla stand in her beloved's heart?
“My Vhalla, my lady, my love.” His words smoothed away the rough edges of her heart. “You make me do things far more dangerous than dream. You make me hope, you make me want.” He sighed a sound that was part bliss and part pain. “Mother, I have yet to discover if you will be my salvation or my demise.”
So after some back and forth ping ponging rounds of Should We or Shouldn't We (which was annoying way back in book #1 but even more so in book #2), Aldrik concluded that:
“It’s still a poor choice,” she whispered. “It always will be.” Aldrik stood. Her breath quickened by his proximity alone. He hooked his fingers under her chin and pulled her face upward gently. “If you want to make the widely accepted appropriate decision, then leave now, have mercy and end this before you entice me further. Because I promise, this will never be easy—for either of us—and I refuse to love you halfway.” Insert swooning aaaaaawwwwws and pleading oooohhh ooohhh pick me pick me(s) here....BUT even after professing his unwavering devotion, they frustratingly continued to abstain from Sexy Sexy Time. Call me and old dirty minded fool but these lukewarm moments of intimacy left me annoyed and frazzled.
After some serious personal growth through losses aplenty (some of which caused big, fat, ugly face tears to cascade), "Vhalla didn’t shrink away, she charged forward. The wind was under her feet, and Aldrik’s heartbeat in her ears. She drew from his strength. Together they would confront their foes. Together they would be invincible." Or would they???
"She knew that she was hopelessly in love with a man who would eventually leave her life. It was an earth-shattering revelation." Being left behind, whether due to obligation or death or whatever have you, is an inevitability that plagues us all...especially true after the crazy last chapter of this book.
If you don't like being left behind, dropped off a traumatizing cliffhanger, I suggest that you wait until book#3 comes out in February 2016 before diving right into this series and especially this book. All in all this whole series is shaping up to be epic (though not in a High Fantasy genre type of way) and I can't recommend it highly enough!