The Cruelest Mercy

Penguin/Razorbill. Jun. 2021. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984835246.
Gr 7 Up–In The Kinder Poison, Zahru was unwillingly thrust into the spotlight in Orkena when Prince Kasta marked her as the human sacrifice to be killed at the end of the Crossing, the race across the desert to determine the next heir to the throne. Using her wit and determination, Zahru managed to survive. In this sequel, Prince Jet, the winner of the Crossing, is poised to become the next Mestrah of Orkena. That is, until Kasta, whom they had left for dead, returns bearing the mark of the gods, which identifies him as the true ruler. Zahru reveals that she has the same mark and thus will have to learn to rule beside the man who wanted her dead. As Zahru learns to rule, she loses some of what made her a compelling protagonist in the first book. Gone are her talents at understanding what makes people tick, and in their place she is filled with a myopic desire to prove that Kasta is the evil person she believes him to be. Mae continues to build on the enthralling world she developed in the first installment, but Zahru’s turn to revenge and paranoia, as well as a slower paced story and smaller roles for secondary characters, makes this tale unfortunately less enjoyable than the first entry. Characters have various skin tones.
VERDICT While this fantasy offers an engrossing world full of intrigue and deception, this sequel lacks some of the magic of its predecessor. Offer to fans of The Kinder Poison.

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