Monday, March 22, 2021

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen is the second book in Nick Martell’s The Mercenary Kings series, which started with The Kingdom of Liars. It’s epic fantasy set in a world where using magic results in a memory loss and a broken moon drops pieces down to the earth. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had a lot of issues with the first book—the plot was all over the place and there were too many unnecessary characters, among other things—but I decided to give the sequel a try. Unfortunately, the issues continued.

There were, if possible, even more going on than in the first book. The rebels, the king’s death and Michael trying to prove his innocence, the princess and the succession to throne, Michael trying to restore the Kingman legacy, avenging his father and taking revenge on his step-father were joined with refugees from a far-away country, Michael training to be a mercenary, a serial killer, and an assassin, to name only a few. And all of it was Michael’s responsibility.

Needless to say, with everything going on, the focus wasn’t properly at anything. Like in the first book, Michael was running all over town, doing this and that, and mostly failing. None of the plotlines flowed organically, let alone so that the reader could follow or anticipate what would happen. There were no logical plot points or climaxes. Continuity and logic issues that I hope only occur in the advance copy I read—characters showing up in scenes they’re not supposed to be or knowing things they’re not supposed to know—didn’t help matters either. There were no moments of peace to give Michael—and the reader—time to reflect what was going on and why. Mostly, I suspect, because the author had no idea either.

The entire first half felt like a collection of filler scenes to make the book long enough for some imaginary epic fantasy word count. For example, Michael made a lot of noise about the necessity of helping the refugees as part of his Kingman legacy, but a chapter later they were completely forgotten and never brought up again except as props.

There were too many characters too like in the first book—mostly the same characters, with nothing to do. Problem for this reader was that they weren’t really re-introduced or connected to the events of the previous book. The author assumed that the reader would remember them all, but personally I had no clue. I spent the first half of the book wondering who all these people were and why they mattered.

It didn’t make things easier that some of them were seen in new light. Michael got his memory back at the end of the previous book and the nameless people of the first book were now his old friends. Unfortunately they weren’t connected with the memories the reader had of them. Who was Joey and why he needed heart surgery? Who was Dawn in the previous book?

It didn’t help that the author can’t really create distinct secondary characters. I could’ve sworn that Michael’s sister Gwen was a soldier or in law enforcement in some capacity, yet she turned out to be a blacksmith who liked to dress as a boy. I had no recollection of that.

The only positive change was Michael himself. Now that he could remember who he was, he was less obnoxious and obsessed with revenge. Like he said himself, the curse had prevented him from growing up. Not that there was much character growth here, but at least he tried to be a better person.

The second half of the book was better and more coherent, with a few truly emotional scenes at the end. All the unnecessary distractions were eliminated and the plot concentrated on finding the serial killer. Their identity was a twist that would’ve been more impactful with better foreshadowing from book one. Now it was merely one of the WTF moments the book was full of.

In my review of the first book I noted that it could’ve used a stern editor that would’ve cut the unnecessary plotlines. The second book would’ve benefited from multiple point of view characters. They could’ve been given some of the plots that poor Michael tried to handle by himself to add some depth and coherence to them. The author clearly has a lot he wants to tell, but the chosen method doesn’t do it justice. The one additional POV there was didn’t move the plot forward at all and so was fairly useless.

I think the books’ problems stem from worldbuilding. Martell has clearly spent years creating a complex and intriguing world containing everything possible, and wants to cram it all in, whether it serves the overall plot or not (like what’s with the moon). Many scenes existed solely to introduce the world, making the plot incoherent. The plotline about the immortals will—likely—be the guiding line from here on. In hindsight, it probably was that in the previous book too. It merely got swamped under all the unnecessary distractions.

The book ended at a new place for Michael. The issues with his step-father aren’t solved and new issues have emerged. There’s so much to come that this likely won’t be a classical trilogy but a longer series. I’m not entirely sure, however, that I’ll continue farther than this with Michael.

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