If anyone can take readers to the edge of their seats, it’s Jessica Cantwell.
After finishing the first book in The Realm Saga (The Adventures of Lily Monroe), I knew author Jessica Cantwell would have quite the challenge to meet – indeed, as epic as the stories she writes – in book number two, Ruler of the People, God of Death. (Amazon link to the book.)
The first book stopped at such a significant point in the quest, I expected the author to make her characters scramble early in the follow-up. And Cantwell did. But first she reintroduced us to Lily while providing just the right amount of new backstory. This helped set the stage for what was to come later in this installment.
In classic myth, the hero is presented with a critical challenge and must choose wisely to avoid grim consequences. There are layers to the test, and what often appears to be the obvious path could be a trap – or it could simply twist into a new trial. Realm’s Dmitry leads his little tribe into a cave where he’s presented with a hero’s challenge. He must choose: light or dark? Which is the right way at the right time? Cantwell excels in bringing the experience of reading a classic epic tale into contemporary writing.
Additionally, the symbolism produced in the setting Cantwell creates is blended beautifully into the storyline. For example, when the group sought refuge in Sabeena’s village (a “blind spot” where they can hide), I was put in mind of the “island scene” from Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi.” You can rest, yes, but eventually you must continue the journey and face what is standing against you.
The author sent me an autographed copy of this book, and she wrote: “Will you be Team Tracy or Team Blaze?” Hands down I am Team Tracy – I loved this character from the start. Blaze is cool and who wouldn’t fall in love with a centaur? But for me, it’s the shapeshifter. I want Lily to choose Tracy.
Lily will need to sort out her feelings for these two very different men. One of the suitors gets a lot of airtime in this book, revealing layers of honor, loyalty, and even vulnerability. That is the kind of character Cantwell produces: complex, larger-than-life beings who still experience much of the same struggles of us ordinary folk. This means we can be awed and feel empathy at the same time. If the adventure in book two doesn’t pull you in (impossible!), the characters will certainly win you over.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod toward the detailed descriptions Cantwell paints while her characters are resting in Sabeena’s village. The vivid narrative was a joy to read, bringing the scenery to life. Lastly, more than once Cantwell surprised me with her plot twists. A loss undone and a surprise reunion made me jump for joy. Cantwell the Storyteller hits one out of the park.
Jessica Cantwell certainly understands how to bring readers to the edge of their seats in final scenes. When I finished this book, I opened my laptop and ordered the third book in the series. I cannot wait to find out what happens next!