Hari finds himself in a comfortable failure. His life after his last adventure doesn't seem to have given him much happiness. And even though he "got the girl" and saved the world and was promoted to Administrator, his life isn't peachy and a happily ever after. On the contrary, it's pretty crappy the way he still fights with Shanna, the falling worth of the Studio under his administration, and especially his useless legs that makes him incapable of even being remotely similar to Caine - and he can't seem to change anything. But things quickly fall into action when Hari discovers a plot to create a war between the Folk in the Overworld and Actors. And though he quickly comes up with a plan to fix it all, things are never that easy and soon Hari finds himself embroiled in a war between ideals and philosophy, with blood paving the way for a new world order. It's a war between gods and every life on two worlds are at stake.
I am actually really conflicted about this book. I love it and hate it for so many different reasons. I love it because Stover isn't scared of bringing in new characters to really influence that plot, such as Kris and Avery Shanks, but still develops the old characters we love and shows new sides of them as well. The characters were so well done. I am astounded and amazed at how Stover handled Hari post-first book because usually that is the problem with sequels - they don't know how to show different sides of the character and there isn't anything left to reveal that is interesting. Not the case with Hari. He grows and develops in this book as well. Beautifully done. Faith and Kris are an interesting surprise and also well incorporated. Loved seeing backstory as well as future characters as a result of the first book. I love the expression of Ma'elKoth and his deviousness. Characters are so true to themselves, yet still able to grow. I love it. It's believable. (high praise)
I also love it because the plot is action-packed and not chapter is boring.
But I hate it because it tries to do too much. This is one of the densest action books I've read because the plot skips around so much, new things and ideas and technology are introduced with a single paragraph. I don't like the fact that he just throws things in with no foreshadowing or emphasis on their importance to the story, such as Arturo Kollburg's ascendance. What the heck? Stover does not explain that well at all, to the point where the reader just must take what happened for granted. Similarly, the backstory to how Earth's dystopian structure came to be was very unbelievable as well. There was very little explanation for Shanna and the river's connection. Etc. You see, he expects the reader to take so many things for granted. Also it's just difficult to figure out what is important and what is just a supporting part of the book.
Stover just juggles just a little bit too much - he does it well and does manage in the end, but the drawback is that there just isn't enough attention to detail for each plot twist and turn. We fly through plots without a single breather and crash into the next one at break-neck speed. The plot and intrigue with the faceless soapies, the plot with Faith, Kris's story with the Folk, the virus plot, the plot and solution to the virus, the transformation of Caine, the philosophy of Caine, the plot of the Ma'elKoth and his deception, Avery Stark's interaction. All of that one after the other without a moment to survey the world. It's all well and good because I love action, but Stover doesn't give a chance to breathe at all. No chance to process and really determine what is going on outside in the plot and also inside with the characters thoughts. At least not entirely. It's such a long book. And I notice that - which means it drags on in parts.
There are so many plots that the resolutions seem to matter less. There is usually a climax to the resolution of subplots in stories or amazing moments where subplots converge - but in the book, only the final battle is the climax. All other resolutions to subplots just seem to fade away into a linear emotion of "plot". There is only rising action throughout the story, very little falling action (even for subplot resolution), which makes me just feel very tired trying to get to that climax. It's like a continual race to finally get to the point without a point of saying hey look this resolution matters. (Example being the resolution of the virus, or the resolution of Kris's problems, or the way Raithe meets his end desires. All of them, not resolved with a climax, but a point of just moving the plot along. Very tiring.)
Themes. This book held a lot, a lot of themes and philosophy and just references to politics and religion. I believe you have to find philosophy somewhat interesting to enjoy this book because the story rests on that dilemma of how society and the individual should act, and their conflicts. I think Stover does a fine job incorporating these things into the story without bogging down the plotline, which is excellent.
I am conflicted. I love it, I'm annoyed by some of it. But ultimately I'm glad I read it. It is interesting, it's worth reading.
Three star because I think the plot could have been tighter (it seemed to go in too many directions) so it can't exactly be a four star. I was debating three and a half stars, but there were moments where I almost felt like not reading it because I started to feel too bogged down, so three stars. But three very good stars because it is well written, a great sequel, and quite interesting.
Recommended for people who read the first book, obviously. You can't really just start on this one.