Swashbuckling swordswoman Cass is back in the sequel to The Company of Eight!
Book: The Conspiracy of Magic by Harriet Whitethorn
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Stripes Books. All opinions my own.
So, I didn’t like this as much as I liked the first book, which is a real shame. Some of that is down to my own personal preferences (I really struggle to have as much interest in cold/winter settings as I do in warm ones – and no, I don’t know why!), and some is down to the fact that I felt like it lost some of the magic of the first book’s world. The Conspiracy of Magic is more of an action/adventure story than a magical exploration of a fantasy world, which is a shame as it was the worldbuilding that made The Company of Eight stand out to me. We do get to see more of the Longest World, but I so enjoyed the island-hopping and ship-based travel of the first book that travelling in carriages through a more classically European setting was a little disappointing in comparison.
I also felt as though this more straightforward girl-and-friend-beat-evil-through-good-hearts plot seemed to aim at a younger audience than the first book; more solidly 9-12/middle grade, where The Company of Eight was pushing the upper bounds. There are some darker parts, including character death, but some of the nuance between good and evil is lost, with the villains more cackling and the good guys more brave and true. Hitting a younger audience isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I would expect, if anything, the tone to age up with subsequent books, not down.
That isn’t to say that this isn’t a fab middle grade story – it is! Cass is still a fun, talented heroine to follow, and her adventure is compelling. She’s asked to pose as a lady-in-waiting for the Queen of Minaris, while really being there to protect her with her incredible sword skills. The story also brings into focus something which is only briefly mentioned in the first book, which is that Cass is immune to magic – this makes for some really great moments, since this book’s bad guys rely more heavily on magic than swords.
I was sad to lose the character of Rip, whom the first book had done a great job of getting me invested in, and have him replaced by Dacha, who was less of a rogue and less funny. I did notice that at one point the author even said ‘Cass and Rip’ when she meant ‘Cass and Dacha’, so I can’t be the only one missing his snark! There were some great new characters, though, including the Queen of Minaris, and lots of reappearances from old favourites, especially Lion, who is as cute as ever.
For me personally, this is a 3.5 cat read, but I think it will be well-loved by many, especially if you don’t have my weird bias against snowy settings. This is still great girl-focused fantasy, and I’m still really excited for book 3!