The second in the Twelve Houses – fantasy romance series and part of my 2nds challenge.

In the Mystic and the Rider, we got to know a group of mystics and the King’s Riders who traveled across the fantasy world of Gillengaria in order to find out any unrest. The main threads were left unresolved. Now, the six friends are back and continue to unravel the mysteries in their country. The previous book focused on Senneth, a powerful mystic, and her relationship with Teyse, a King’s Rider who didn’t trust mystics at all. This time the main character is the mystic Kirra from the noble house of Danalustrous and her relationships.

Kirra is a shape-changer and a healer, and she’s also the heir to her noble House. However, she’s always been a restless person who doesn’t like to stay in one place for long. Donnal who is also a shape-changer has been her constant companion during her whole life. However, Donnal is a peasant and Kirra’s father has employed him to be Kirra’s defender.

The book starts with Kirra leading a small group that consists of Donnal, a King’s Rider Justin, and a powerful male mystic Cammon to rescue Gillengaria’s future regent Romar Brendyn. Some dissidents have kidnapped Romar and the king fears that they might kill him. The group manages to rescue Romar and then they escort him back to his lands. Kirra is strongly attracted to Romar and during their time together, she starts to respect him, too. Alas, Romar is married. Still, he flirts with Kirra most of the way home.

Then Kirra returns to her home. Much to her surprise, she finds out that her father has decided to make Kirra’s younger half-sister, Casserah, the heir. After her initial shock, Kirra realizes that her father has made the right choice; Casserah loves the land and the people, and would do anything to protect them. Others take this as an opportunity to tell how much they distrust and despise mystics and particularly Kirra. However, her family supports her.

Malcolm, the father of Kirra and Casserah, decides that it would be good for Casserah to visit other noble houses and get to both know them and let them see the new heir. So he demands that Casserah must accept invitations to various balls around the country. However, Casserah has no intention of leaving her beloved Danalustreous. As a compromise, Kirra takes the form of her sister and visits the balls instead.

Her first destination is the king’s house Ghosenhall where she finds out that the king is also sending her daughter to the balls. Princess Amalie has lived a very secluded life and the king wants to introduce her to the nobles who know next to nothing about her. Kirra’s old friends Senneth, Tayse, Cammon, and Justin will be protecting her. In addition, the mysterious young queen Valri and the king’s brother Romar will also escort the princess.

Kirra tells her old friends the truth but she has to lie to everyone else about her true identity which turns out to be harder than she expected. Also, she’s still very attracted to Romar.

During their journey, the group encounters a lot of mistrust and outright hatred of mystics. It also becomes clear that there is a plot against Romar. Some people are concerned about Amalie’s ability to lead the country and would like to have their own candidate on the thrown. Also, some members of the minor noble house, the Thirteenth House, are frustrated with their own position in life and are plotting against the ruler.

While there are some action scenes in the book, this one is more clearly a romance novel than the previous book in the series. The emphasis is in Kirra’s choices: will she start an affair with Romar even though he’s married? What about Donnal who loves Kirra? Kirra will also have to make some unpleasant choices about the way she will use her magic which can make even more people fear the mystics.

The book continues the storylines from the Mystic and the Rider; the unrest among the nobles, the hatred of mystics, and the return of Coralinda Giesseltess who teaches that all mystics are evil and want to corrupt others. Will the nobles accept Amalie as their next queen? Just who is queen Valeri and what are her secrets? However, this book raises more questions and the answers will still have to wait for the next books.

To me, the book felt slower in pace because of the emphasis in the relationship between Kirra and Romar. I also don’t like cheaters which made the whole romance quite pointless to me. Romar admits that he married only to have kids and they don’t have any, yet. Apparently, in Gillangaria it’s dishonorable to have a divorce (or set aside a wife, as they call it) which feels ridiculous to me. How can lying, cheating, and hurting everyone involved which goes on for years be more honorable than a clean divorce? Romar could have easily given her wife a pension and then married Kirra which should have made clear to most people that Romar’s first wife wasn’t to blame. Also, I don’t understand which institution is propping up the “marriage without divorce” thing. Historically in the West, it was the Catholic Church. I haven’t seen any institution which is equally powerful in Gillangaria. So, the whole thing felt quite artificial to me.

The characters are still as likable as ever. Kirra is a merry young woman who likes to play pranks on her friends and it’s easy with her shape-changing ability. She’s also a healer and wants to heal everyone who’s in pain. When she encounters a foreign disease which she can’t heal, she’s very upset about it. Donnal is a far more mysterious figure. He prefers to stay in animal shape and is constantly guarding Kirra. However, they don’t seem to talk much. Together they seek out more information about the old gods and especially about the Wild Mother who is the patron of shape-changers and animals. The six friends are a very close-knit group who all look out for each other – even when it might feel inconvenient.

Romar is a quite honorable (except in his marriage). Despite being a noble, he doesn’t shun the company of commoners and talks to them almost as equals. He also wants to do all the exciting things himself such as fighting or walking into danger instead of being protected. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. However, it was a bit confusing that he doesn’t become official regent unless the king dies, even though he’s constantly referred to as the regent.

The plot focuses on the relationships, both romantic and friendships, and political scheming.

Overall: interesting if somewhat slow continuation.