Just finished up The Second Guard, a story following the adventures of Talimendra and her friends, Zarif and Chey. In the kingdom established in the story (Tequende,) the second-born child of every family must serve in what is essentially the royal army. Tali has been vying for a spot in the guard ever since she was little, determined to protect the queen and her realm to the best of her ability. While the book was a little slow, I really enjoyed it! It’s one of those novels that you can take breaks from– more of a light read than a serious sit-down book like Code Name Verity.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I really enjoyed the lack of love triangles in this book; the obvious one would be Zarif-Tali-Chey, but they have very obvious platonic love for each other. There’s never a question of someone falling in love with the other, and it’s really refreshing to read. I like books where boys and girls can be best friends. It makes things a lot simpler. There are several types of love, right? But books tend to focus on romantic love as much as possible, when it comes to male and female protagonists, which can really suck. That’s not to say that there is absolutely no romance in this book, though. Zarif has this burgeoning thing with the kitchen girl, Brindl, one of their fellow pledges and a very soft-spoken, kind of shy kiddo, and Tali has a pretty hefty crush on their instructor, (Comandier?) Jaden. I can’t remember his official title. Jaden is only nineteen and I think Tali is around sixteen, so it’s not as creepy as it sounds at first. I also liked that nothing really came of this crush! I’m sure that it’ll be addressed in later novels, especially with the ending to this book, where Jaden and Tali have a moment on the pier, but in this storyline there weren’t any massive moments of romantic tension between them.
Usually, I pretend that YA protagonists are older than novels claim. It’s weird to think of sixteen-year-olds going on crazy adventures and falling deeply in love with strangers– I mean, they’re just babies. I’m only nineteen, so it’s not like I’m that much older, but I think it’d be weird for me to go on a crazy adventure or fall deeply in love with someone at this age and I absolutely can’t imagine someone younger than me doing that. I usually pretend that they’re 19+ or at least 18, but in this book, Tali acted her age. A lot of authors make the mistake of making their characters wiser than they should be, or a lot more deep than they should be (ahem, John Green.) but Tali never presented that kind of sageliness. Which sounds a little bad, but no, I enjoyed it. It made sense for her to be idealistic and naive and a little petulant, because again, she’s only sixteen. She still has this unwavering trust in the world.
Lastly, I really liked reading about their adventures in Alcazar, which is basically a school for the rising Second Guard. It’s where a lot of their character development happens– speaking of which, this book has a ton of character development and establishment– and it’s also described to great detail. Alcazar is as real as Hogwarts. I feel like I’ve got a really good idea of what the place looks like, and their adventures in Alcazar provide nice moments of peace in an otherwise intense environment.
The few things that I didn’t like about this book: there was this one kid, Drygaun or something like that. He was basically a bully for the entire book, and they redeemed him in the end. It’s not that I hated this or anything, but I thought it was a pretty dramatic 180 for the character to take. They did, however, have a moment between him and Tali where they were both banished to the kitchens and had kind of a deep conversation, and then he did redeem himself right before they were all about to be imminently slaughtered in battle with the invading forces of another kingdom, so it makes a bit of sense. I guess it just moved too fast for me to really feel sorry for him. They do kill off a few characters in this book, but it’s no one that you really grow to care about too much. I think the only death that made me go, “aww,” was Saraky’s. Sarasky? I’m so bad with names.
Overall, I really like this book! It’s not a serious read. If you’re looking for something that’ll keep you happy for a bit, that has a well-established backstory and a good plot, then I’d recommend it. It’s not as intense as Verity at all, nor is it written in overly sophisticated prose or anything– it’s nice on the eyes and the mind. Yeah, I’d give it a go. I’ll be continuing the series, too! Next book comes out in September. 🙂