Khya's journey to get back her brother and stop the Miriseh has the squad going to Ryogo to seek out the secrets of how the Miriseh came to be. Most of this book is devoted to the journey to Ryogo, the hardships they face on sea and on land (having to hide from Ryogan military forces), and the search for the immortality that Varan had created, and finally them having to choose between the right thing and the smart thing.
The pacing of the story is slower than that of the first, even though it takes place over more terrain. They go from the sea, then a hidden port in the northern parts of Ryogo, come across a nomadic outcast clan (who also happen to be desosa wielders in a different way), brave treacherous climbs on sacred mountains, and race to stop Varan and his Itagamin army before they reach Ryogo. The middle third of the book feels too expansive and nothing of import happens for the most part, so I was kind of bored there, but towards the end it picks up. I liked the addition of Lo'a's clan, and how good it was for them to have at least one ally in this foreign land, but they do run into them too frequently to be entirely plausible. The distances and timeline don't make much sense but there wasn't a map to see, so...
On the character side, Khya feels distant in this book. I don't know whether it was the pacing that affected it, but I couldn't connect to her emotionally in this book. There are so many new things coming out - like to the extent they were betrayed by the Miriseh, the different social customs and community structure in Ryogo, but it doesn't seem like it is shown to affect the characters much, or they mostly take it in stride. Even for a warrior clan, they seem pretty chill about the newness of it all. And Varan's original quest for immortality seems so amazing, considering he did alone what an entire squad is struggling through. Like, I know he is a villain but I'm still impressed, yo!
I, however, liked the continued attention to how the gender and sexuality of this world are quite different; although, it must be noted that this difference is shown to be limited to Itagami and Lo'a's clan - Ryogo mostly favors a heteronormative structure and there is one instance of queermisia when an ebet (the third sex in this world) child tells of how ey and eir mother were persecuted by Ryogo. There is, on the other hand, canonical bisexual and asexual characters, three sexes, an established polyamorous relationship in the secondary character ensemble, as well as outright depiction of non-exclusive relationships in this book (hint: Khya gets another love interest), which I think is awesome for a fantasy genre book.
The ending leaves us on the cusp of an oncoming war, and I am obviously interested in how Khya will now match up against Varan. Like, even with all their awesomeness, Khya and her squad are still sort of underdogs when you consider the whole Itagamin army of desosa users they will have to face. That third book is going to be epic!
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Entangled Teen, via Netgalley.