Tarnished City (Dark Gifts #2) by Vic James (2017)
Fiction | Urban Fantasy | Dystopia
“MAGIC COMPELS. WE BLEED.
Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his mind. But as the Jardines tighten their grip on a turbulent Britain, brother and sister face a fight greater than their own.
New alliances and old feuds will remake the nation, leaving Abi and Luke questioning everything – and everyone – they know. And as Silyen Jardine hungers for the forgotten Skill of the legendary Wonder King, the country’s darkest hour approaches. Freedom and knowledge both come at a cost. So who will pay the price?
How do you choose when you can’t save everyone?”
Book One: GILDED CAGE
pooled ink Review:
So it’s been a few years since I read an ARC of the first book, Gilded Cage, and thought it best to re-read it and refresh my memory of the story before diving into the sequel. Well I’d forgotten just how dramatic and tragic and intense that ending was!! I’d thought I’d dive straight from one book to the next but oh no, I needed a bit for my brain to recover from the trauma of all that goes down. Utterly brilliant these books are and not a light fluffy read to be sure.
Book two picks up essentially right where the first book left off. Not much time passes and we’re quickly hurtled back into the racing plot. Luke is in custody, Abi is on the run, Daisy remains on the estate, their parents are at Millmoor, Lord Jardine is interim Chancellor, Heir Meilyr remains crippled, Bouda is still the worst, Heir Gavar remains brutish and useless, Silyen is still a secretive little sociopath, and the stakes have risen ever higher beneath the weight of the catastrophe that concluded book one. In summation, things do not look good.
But enough for the vague recap, how about my purely emotional reaction upon finishing this sequel to the Dark Gifts series? Well… MY BRAIN IS CRACKING AND I CANNOT EVEN OMG I AM SWEATING AND OVERHEATING AND FURIOUS AND CONFUSED OH SO CONFUSED AND ANGRY OHHHH I AM RAGING INDEED AND TOO MUCH HAS HAPPENED I CANNOT PROCESS IT I AM PURE RAW CHAOTIC ENERGY AND EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW AND MIGHT NEED A MOMENT TO COMPOSE MYSELF AND READY MY SOUL TO DIVE INTO BOOK THREE BECAUSE WHAT JUST HAPPENED??????
So yeah, that’s where I’m at right now.
The first book, I thought, was utterly fantastic. Dark, imaginative, gritty, unrelenting, fascinating…but book two has my emotions utterly reeling. Plot twists attack from all sides and the pressure of it all builds and builds until you’ll want to SCREAM. Holy cannoli it was like being in a pressure cooker. Slowly but surely the escalation of events, plots, ploys, plans, and vendettas will squeeze your lungs until the explosive cliff-hanger perfectly reflects how you feel. Thus far, having read two of the three books in the Dark Gifts trilogy, I’d rate this series a brilliant success and am at a loss to explain why it has not received larger acclaim.
Not only the story itself and its characters are genuinely impressively crafted but James’ writing style is brilliant. She always manages to end each chapter and switch POV at just the perfect moment. Her timing is truly flawless and the result is an entire day down the drain because you couldn’t summon the clarity of thought or will power to set the blasted book down. The pacing, the writing, the intricate relationships, connections, and plot lines, they all work in such tandem as to have me shaking my head and applauding with gape-mouthed awe. As a writer, I can only hope to achieve such a level of skill someday.
Okay, I need a moment to breathe because that ending is still ringing in my ears so let’s just dive into a few characters that I need to spew thoughts about.
“What are you, Silyen Jardine?”
Which was a good question. Silyen thought about it.
I mentioned in my review of Gilded Cage that I was most curious about Silyen Jardine and that remains true even now. We do get to spend more time with him and reading from his POV in this book which it just heightens my interest. Sure he’s a bit of a sociopath but his callous, highly focused view of the world is truly intriguing and certainly a force driving the plot even when those closest to him remain ignorant of the true reach of his curiosity. He’s an interesting character because you despise him, you’re intrigued by him, and a part of you can’t help but almost root for him if only out of pure unrelenting curiosity.
Now I won’t personally be jumping onto Silyen’s wagon any time soon because I’m not convinced of his motivations, but regardless of what they may be he does happen to be perhaps the one person with a chance of discovering the key to abolishing the unjust “status quo” and that is something I am very keen to witness. (But of course this means he also holds the key to elevating the Equals from powerful leaders into god-like overlords cementing eternally their reign (or his reign) in which case I am utterly terrified that such a cold, calculating boy is the wielder of such fate…oh my, no, I refuse to think too much on this. *sweats nervously*).
That was the problem with Equals. They were cruel autocrats filled with unimaginable power.
But they were also just human.
If you read book one then you’ll be in great apprehension about what lies in store for Luke as he serves his sentence as a Condemned under Lord Crovan. I won’t give away any spoilers but I will say that it was…not what I had expected. Thus far we had only been presented with rumors and the evidence of Dog to fill our heads with nightmarish possibilities but what Lord Crovan presents is something altogether more simple yet no less cruel. Indeed, behind this refined house of horrors lies a principle of reformation that almost sounds neatly logical. The Condemned are imprisoned in a castle with one lesson to learn: you are not better than us.
Through the rules by which the house is divided and governed, as well as through private “lessons” with Lord Crovan himself, this re-education proceeds. It’s truly chilling how one can glimpse the logic behind it, almost rationalize this tidy breaking of souls as a reasonable response to a problem. Almost, but not quite, for the fact remains that Lord Crovan is an utter sadist and those Equals in power are blindly cruel. And yet Crovan’s point does retain merit in that common people/Skill-less people can be and have been just as monstrous when given the chance…*shudders* I love/hate when authors are able to craft villains who at times make a twisted kind of sense. It makes them particularly terrifying.
“And you think you commoners are, therefore, morally superior to Equals?”
This question was less straightforward, but: “Yes, I would say so. Normal people aren’t perfect. We do terrible things. But you Equals don’t even seem to realize how monstrous the things you do are.”
This conversation was awful. Every word out of his mouth felt like one step closer to a trap he would surely fall into. Crovan was studying him closely.
“Morality is nothing to do with it, Hadley. This is a common error I see among many of the Condemned sent to me here. Those whose crimes arise from their idealism. Like the woman who left us this evening. Or like you. You imagine that you are better than us. You are not. Only weaker. A world in which your kind ruled would not be improved. It would merely be diminished. And that is one of the lessons my household is designed to instill.”
BUT (and this is a massive “but”) what the Equals refuse to understand is that it goes both ways. The commoners are not better than the Equals, true, but the Equals are not better than the commoners either for power does not equate “better”. Does being Skilled make one more powerful? Strong? Imposing? Useful? Unstoppable? Oh undoubtedly, and yet that does not make one better. But never mind this moral squabble over whom is better, more importantly one must never underestimate the power of the masses and the power of seeing a person as a person (a lesson that shall be imparted forcefully and with waning mercy as this series drives forwards).
Oh and because that spine-chilling story line of slow methodical torture that we must endure by Luke’s side and the rising abusive dictatorship that we witness birthing in London is not quite dark enough, I must also warn you that there are deaths. Someone dies and I’m still not quite over it because it happens so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and the unfeeling pace of the plot gives you really no time to grieve or process what the hell just happened and for the longest time I was half convinced it wasn’t real. And then another death occurs much in a similar, abrupt, unforeseen manner for which my brain falls right back into a defensive position of disbelief. And then another killing blow blindsides reader and character alike and these are only the major events not counting time and time again that your hope will be shaken so harshly as to crack. So yes, brace thyself for some shocking moments. (And no that was not a critique as unfortunately it felt realistic considering the callousness of the majority in this series and the break-neck speed at which its plot charges forth.)
Look at the world, Jackson had told him once, in Millmoor. Not at the ground.
Abi gets quite busy and I was happy to see her character develop beyond the intelligent, rule-abiding eldest sister who thought she’d solved her family’s problems only to watch it all shatter before her very eyes.
The Jardine family as a whole is wildly busy in this book. Lord Jardine (EW.) and Bouda (DIE.) remain just as disgustingly horrible as always so their business is only further cause for fear and concern. Silyen, as mentioned before, remains a curiosity as he continues to operate on his own terms, unswayed by family politics or pressures, and I remain thoroughly curious as to what his ultimate aims will be. Jenner spends far less time on the page in this book seeing as he is unSkilled and forced apart from Abi who’s on the run, but I will say his thread gets interestingly entangled with that of his ambitious family’s. Then there’s Gavar. Gavar who is such a basic cliché of a self-entitled prick and yet small hints, small cracks, small clues from the first book gather and deepen just that much more in this book. Some might see Gavar’s potential as nonexistent, some a red herring, and others a wildcard, and yet I feel as if he is who he has always been or at least who he has been for a very long time now even if no one else cares enough to take note.
Oh yes the Jardine family is busy in this book and I both shudder and grin to see what becomes of it all in the trilogy’s conclusion.
We meet some other intriguing characters along the way, some whom I hope will play a surprising part in the next book, but overall the main players remain the same (even as members trade in and out). Pay attention, watch for clues, keep an eye on your back, and never cede hope no matter what this book reveals.
Tarnished City is the second installment in the Dark Gifts series which deserves a thunderous standing ovation. The plot thickens, the stakes raise higher than bearable, the characters deepen, and page after page will tease you with caresses only to turn and lash your heart with a grin crafted of hellfire. Twists and turns, betrayals and alliances, your mind and emotions will be sent into a dizzying frenzy until you can take no more and combust alongside the explosive cliff-hanger with which this book ends. Be sure to have the next book on hand or be braced to stomach the agony of waiting to discover what comes next.
Purchase Here: Tarnished City
Check out the rest of the series: Gilded Cage (book 1), Bright Ruin (book 3)