This sequel to The Black Coast ups the action, but never loses the amazing worldbuilding and character work that made me love the first book!
Book: The Splinter King by Mike Brooks
Publication date: 15th July 2021
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, murder, and death; misogyny (condemned on page); discussion of fantasy slavery.
If you missed my review of The Black Coast, you should probably go back and read it, because it was one of my favourite reads this year, and I did so much shouting about how much I loved the fundamental aspects of this world and Mike Brooks’s writing that I don’t want to just repeat myself here. So please go back and discover what I love about this series in general, and then come back for more specifics about this book…
The Black Coast wasn’t exactly a quiet book, but it was one that, for all its battles, included a lot of quieter moments of people being constructive and working towards goals that didn’t include physical might. The Splinter King continues this pattern, but it does feel like things are moving along much more dramatically towards world-shaking changes – it’s masterful how well the plot juggles small moments and large ones. I think there are even more viewpoints here than there were in book one, and yet I still never felt adrift. I was just thinking about how to summarise the plot, and it’s enormous – there are so many things going on, but I can’t get over how very readable this is. I like to think I’m an attentive reader, but some very intricate fantasy can have me reaching for a notebook to keep track of subplots (cough, naming no Jenn Lyons books, cough) and that isn’t necessary here. That being said, I do want to give enormous kudos to the author for the incredible summary of book one he includes at the front. It’s streamlined enough that it doesn’t whack you in the face with info, but it neatly reminds you of all the key events (and character names! Italicised so you spot them!) so you don’t need to have immediately reread book one to have a hope of understanding book two. It’s the most elegant and helpful summary I’ve ever seen in a fantasy novel.
My favourites continue to be Tila and Saana – how incredible is it to have not one but two female protagonists older than 35? That being said, as with last time there wasn’t actually a single point of view character I disliked. There’s a slight shift here from the first book; although the storylines were weighted pretty equally, Saana and Daimon felt like the mainest of the main characters in The Black Coast, whereas here they step back a little, and though I missed them (Saana particularly!) it wasn’t because the other characters were lacking, or because their plot wasn’t good. It’s just that the focus has expanded to include far more than Black Keep. With more of the action taking place in the capital, I felt like Tila took over that central role, which was a delight. I absolutely adore her smarts and her determination not to put up with the misogynistic limitations of her country. We also got to spend more time with Marin and Alazar, the thief and swordsman husbands, which brought me a lot of joy as they were great minor characters in the first book, and even separated they light up the scenes they’re in. A surprise hit for me was Daimon’s brother Darel, whom we only saw as a side character before; he blossoms in his own plot here, and adds another nuanced queer character to an already fantastically diverse lead cast.
As I said, I won’t go on too much about the general feel of the world and the writing, as my review of The Black Coast lays out in some detail how enamoured of the linguistic and social worldbuilding going on here. What I will say is that I am really enjoying reading an epic fantasy that feels simultaneously high- and low-stakes, and one where almost every single character is just an exhausted pigeon trying their hardest to handle life as best they can. I love that people can be concerned about the deep diplomatic considerations of a noble visitor arriving and also whether their husband might think the visitor is cute, for example. It’s so very human. I worry when I describe these books that I make them sound wishy-washy with all my talk of kindness and hope and humanity, but they are as fierce and epic as you like, just also very aware that people are people doing their best with their problems, even if some of those problems are pretty epic.
I already loved The Black Coast; now having read The Splinter King, I think I can officially say this series is magnificent. I cannot wait for book three (less than a year to go, hopefully). A fully-deserved five out of five cats!
3 thoughts on “Review: The Splinter King by Mike Brooks”
Oh this was great, thank you. There are too few reviews of this book, I’ve been perusing the internet for them since I read and loved The Black Coast. I can’t wait for more Darel!
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Darel really was the dark horse of the book for me, I didn’t like him at all to start with but he was one of my faves by the end! I think it’s hard for sequels in general to get reviews, because it feels like people will either already be interested or not, but this one is so worth shouting about 🙂