Tor Teen, 2020, 368 pages
Django Wexler's City of Stone and Silence is the second book in the cinematic fantasy Wells of Sorcery Trilogy featuring a fierce young woman skilled in the art of combat magic on an epic mission to steal a ghost ship.
After surviving the Vile Rot, Isoka, Meroe, and the rest of Soliton’s crew finally arrive at Soliton's mysterious destination, the Harbor - a city of great stone ziggurats, enshrouded in a ghostly veil of Eddica magic. And they're not alone.
Royalty, monks, and madmen live in a precarious balance, and by night take shelter from monstrous living corpses. None know how to leave the Harbor, but if Isoka can't find a way to capture Soliton and return it to the Emperor's spymaster before a year is up, her sister Tori's life will be forfeit.
But there's more to Tori's life back in Kahnzoka than the comfortable luxury Isoka intended for her. By night, she visits the lower wards, risking danger to help run a sanctuary for mage-bloods fleeing the Emperor's iron fist. When she discovers that Isoka is missing, her search takes her deep in the mires of intrigue and revolution. And she has her own secret - the power of Kindre, the Well of Mind, which can bend others to its will. Though she's spent her life denying this brutal magic, Tori will use whatever means she has to with Isoka's fate on the line...
In the first book of this trilogy, Ship of Smoke and Steel, we met Isoka, an 18-year-old "mage-blood" who's basically Wolverine with (very small, as we are repeatedly reminded) tits who was part of the criminal underworld in her city before she got forced onto the giant ancient ship Soliton, which sails around the world guided by an unknown intelligence collecting mage-bloods and delivering them.... somewhere.
In City of Stone and Silence, the "somewhere" turns out to be a city of ancient ziggurats, where the survivors of previous Soliton crews have settled in warring factions while a being known as "Prime" periodically sends zombie hordes out to attack them.
We learned in the first book that besides the Well of "Melos," or combat magic, Isoka also possesses the Well of Eddica, the ability to communicate with and control the dead, and which also apparently acts as a kind of electricity for the strange, ancient technology in the Soliton and the city of ziggurats. The descriptions definitely imply some kind of ancient technology, though it coexists with "magic," which mostly acts like psionic/mutant powers.
So Isoka and her crew have to figure out how to end the fighting, defeat Prime, who is an ancient Eddica adept with a zombie army and control of the Matrix, and regain control of the Soliton.
Throughout this book, Isoka is basically a hero, and there's hardly a mention of all the people she murdered back when she was a mob enforcer in Kahnzoka.
This book is split between Isoka's POV and that of her little sister, Tori, who in the first book was just the reason Isoka is in her situation: she became a ward boss so she could provide a sheltered upbringing for Tori, and now she's being extorted to try to capture the Soliton in order to save her sister.
In book two, we learn that Tori, of course, is also a mage-blood. Her Well is "Kindre," or mind control magic. Tori, unsurprisingly, knew a lot more about her big sister's activities than Isoka thought, and has been sneaking out to help the poor and downtrodden and also hanging around with a cute aristocrat boy with naive ideals and a desire to help.
Stuff happens, Tori finds herself part of a growing uprising, and she starts using her Kindre power more and more. At first I was really tired of her whining about how she felt "dirty" every time she used it to expose people's feelings or make them do things and how she kept having nightmares about being a "monster."
Then, as the uprising gets more and more serious and Tori is pushed harder, she actually starts using it in earnest. There is a moment near the end where she crosses a moral event horizon as serious as the one Isoka did at the beginning of book one.
So, despite the fact that this was still a very juvenile, very tropey book about 5E Player Characters running a 3rd to 9th level campaign, I am kind of curious to see where the author takes our two morally compromised sisters in the third book. Will there actually be consequences for their evil deeds, or will they get to walk off into the sunset as heroes because they defeated the bad guys?
The sex and romance remains YA and cringey (Isoka is still getting it on with Princess Meroe while oggling enough dudes to remind us she's bi, and really, did we need to hear about a 13-year-old sneaking off to a closet to masturbate?), the action remains D&Dish, the powers remain comic bookish. It's a lightly entertaining YA fantasy epic where I'm still hoping for everyone to die horribly in the end.
Also by Django Wexler: My review of Ship of Smoke and Steel.
My complete list of book reviews.