The short: 3/5 ✦. The steampunk-esque AU world remains of interest, but the characters remain stiff and the story overwhelming in detail.
I admit that I skimmed quite a bit of this one. When I picked it up to read, I was more than a little hesitant because I couldn’t remember much of the first book nor that I particularly liked it (in fact, rereading my review of The Inventor’s Secret, I see that I did not). My main interest was finding out what happened to Grave, the automaton with the soul of a boy, and to be fair, The Conjurer’s Riddle doesn’t disappoint in revealing more about him. It does take awhile for the story to build, however, and the most surprising thing is how much the Resistance and the Empire and all other AU elements slowly fall away to focus on the conundrum of Grave and what it really means to be human.
Charlotte has matured a lot, and her love triangle (angle) with Coe and Jack thankfully takes a back seat to the action. She reflects on the situation and has a surprising amount of clearheaded restraint when it comes to the realization that they’re fighting over her and it’s not a good thing. She therefore devotes her attention to her little group of child survivors — who are at first prominent in the story and then slowly recede into the background — and to Grave, whom she is both frightened and protective of.
This is the part of the book that I liked, but it’s buried deep within other complex plot elements and character mishmash. To be fair, the writing is quite lovely, but it simply doesn’t suit the bland characters and overstuffed story. There’s a great deal of exposition, and while that’s normally one of the my favorite things, I was just not at all interested in this world, sadly, and I found myself quickly working through the historical bits to get back to the action. There were also some wonky bits that may border on offensive, though I’m not in a position to really say so. When dealing with alternative history, it’s too easy to give focus to the wrong people and cultures, and despite being set in a purportedly diverse New Orleans, I didn’t get the feeling of universal inclusion or diversity. It’s a backdrop, nothing more.
The ending was also quite abrupt; I didn’t know this series was actually a trilogy, so that was a bit of a surprise, and it’s more of an unfortunate cliffhanger than an enticement to read more. I mean, I think I will pick up the third book because I really am very curious about Grave (easily the most fascinating character, though it’s hardly a contest), but I’ll probably won’t be any more excited than I was to read this one.
Header image: The Conjurer’s Riddle by Andrea Cremer, published November 3rd 2015 by Philomel Books.