In this is the deadly sequel to Mask of Shadows, Sal’s cutthroat story continues. Their Opal now and Our Queen has given them permission to go after the Erlend nobles who decided to sacrifice Nacea, a war is brewing and Erlend cruelty is at the center of it. Sal must do everything they can to stop the Erlends, but things get complicated when their own obligations get in the way.

This book includes violence and various forms of discrimination within a fantasy setting.

I give this book five stars (out of five) without any hesitation. I’ve already raved and ranted about the first book in this duology so I won’t say all the same things again here but it really is incredible. My favourite part is probably the details of each and every character, even background characters or those who only show up a few times. The author really makes sure that every single action is in character and makes sense.

I just love how a lot of the dialogue and actions of the characters are just so them. You know when you see a friend, family member or someone you’re close with and they do or say something that’s just completely and utterly them or something that no one else would do. It’s hard to explain but it’s really cool to see such realistic characterization and level of description in a book because it’s pretty rare.

Anyways, what I’m going to do now is a long plot summary as I will be covering all the plot twists and the ending. I will give spoiler warnings but make sure not to read this if you haven’t already read Mask of Shadows or at least have some prior knowledge of the series and characters.

This installment of the series opens similarly to the first one, in a fast paced action scene with Sal at the center of the chaos. This is an amazing introduction, especially if you hadn’t read the first book in a while or were slightly unfamiliar with the characters. This opening immediately reintroduces you to Sal and the cutthroat world they live in. The intense scene I’ve been talking about is specifically Sal attacking one of the corrupt Erlend Lords. Sal expresses the extreme violence prevalent in this world, commenting on the Lord not thinking someone would kill his child to get to him. This first chapter also summarizes and restates bits of information really well, it tells us who Sal is and why they’re killing very clearly and in a way that makes it easy to know that you should be one their side and they’re fighting for good and the betterment of society.

The confrontation between Sal/Opal and Caldera (one of the Erlend nobles who decided to sacrifice Nacea) was raw and emotional, it also showcases how ruthless and strong Sal is, the gravity and extremity of what the Erlends did and how they continue to do so even now, using examples from the first book and ones specific to Sal. However the most interesting part of the opening character was actually the thing Sal finds while searching his room after killing Caldera. Behind a fake wall, they find important papers and one ‘tattered and runed human ear.’ This is super mysterious and confusing. Another interesting part of this chapter was how Sal restates their list (North Star. Deadfall. Riparian. Caldera. Winter.) and adds the new information that they carved into the names into their new Opal mask, which becomes a constantly recurring theme, motivation and important part of the story.

Within the next chapter there’s lots of short sections that give you background information on what happened in the last book and how it’s affecting the characters. Also more specifically about how Erlend works and why it’s unaccepting of people like Sal, and why they have strict beliefs with gender, sexuality and more. It also jumps right into the current political state in the beginning of the book, and how the war is picking up again. Erlend soldiers are moving south and people are fleeing towards the border, lots of shady, horrific and unethical things going on in that area. This sets up the setting of the story for this book and gives the reader and Sal the needed background information and context.

The next main thing that happens is a guard seemingly randomly pulling his sword and attempting to kill the Queen, smartly in a meeting with the entire Left Hand in the room. It’s safe to say that didn’t really work out for him, they realize that the Erlends had planted spies and potential assassins in the court long ago. Now they have to figure out who’s on their side and who’s trying to kill them, which proves to be difficult. Sal is assigned the task of tracking down the Erlend rangers who are torturing people to death in the same way Shadows killed and then leaving them near the border so that they can blame it on Igna.

[This scene also confirms why Sal is still fighting with and serving the Queen even though she didn’t do anything to help Nacea right away, because she still cared about the loss and was much better compared to the Erlends on the other side of the war.]

Ever since Ruby’s death Sal has been a lot more panicky and sad, they have lots of problems but they know that lots of people have it worse than them so they deny being sad. They have to keep busy and jump from one thing to another to keep themselves occupied and not focused on how they’re really feeling. But to help them clear their mind, Sal receives a short message from Elise who’d managed to get word out of Hinter and back to Willowknot, after she was kidnapped at the end of the first book. She’s safe and she doesn’t want anyone to come for her, she’s working to help her people and do everything she can for good.

 [Slight spoiler warning, nothing that will ruin the entire story but if you want to go into this book without knowing any of the main twists then stop now and skip to the end of the summary, the My Favourite Moments section or the My Comments section.]

The next super important and amazing thing that happens is Sal reuniting with Rath, a character we only really see within the first few chapters or the first book but the readers constantly hear about from Sal’s inner commentary. Rath finds Sal on the way to the border and needs their help, he needs Sal to find one of the kids he runs with named Cam. He was taken by rangers pretending to be Igna soldiers and Sal is sort of conflicted, since as Opal they have responsibilities that they’re supposed to as quickly and efficiently as possible but as Sal they wanted to do anything they could to help Rath, especially since they’d left him behind for the auditions. Can you guess what Sal did?

Shortly after Sal and Rath started traveling together they came across a small group of bandits that’d been flayed by the rangers. The young ranger is still around, and once they got the ranger tied down, Rath started hurriedly questioning him. Although the ranger doesn’t give anything away they manage to find out where the rangers are heading based on written notes. In the end, instead of killing the ranger Sal left him stranded and tied up with nothing to do except look at the bodies of the people he’d flayed. Sal made him understand the fear and horror of what he’d been doing. 

 When Sal and Rath eventually do make it to Hinter Sal comes up with a decently reasonable excuse to break into Winter’s grand building. Sal gets in through a small water passage with a weak grate and sneaks through the building until they find and slip into Elise’s room. After an emotional reunion Elise explains why she has to stay in Hinter, since her father doesn’t view the actual citizens as anything more than pieces and prices. Elise is the one trying to protect everyone and stop the Erlends from misleading their citizens into believing that Igna is the one fighting against them. The Erlends are killing their own citizens and using it as propaganda to blame Igna and encourage people to join the army. Elise also gives Sal more information on where the Rangers are and more of an idea of what they’re doing. After Sal left Elise they met up with Rath again. 

 [Spoiler warning, skip to the end of the summary, the My Favourite Moments section or the My Comments section to avoid them.]

As Sal and Rath made their way onward Sal they found a ranger look-out guarding a barn up ahead. To take down the rangers Sal quickly killed the look out and then set up a trap for Rath to trigger. It’s pretty simple, a string of bowstring strung across the doorway, then when Sal signals Rath he’d make a sound and someone would come running out of the barn and trip. Before jumping right into a fight Sal scaled the barn and observed them for a while, there was the leader Caden de Bain, three rangers and kidnapped one boy.

Sal makes a comparison between Bain and Emerald in this scene, they’d both been fighting since before the war and were equally deadly, but Emerald did what she did because she had to to save others but Caden de Bain did what he did because he loves hurting people.

Once the fight started Rath tackled the tripped ranger and Sal started dealing with the ones inside, Sal shot one of the sleeping rangers beforehand and then used the other’s proper training against them by using non-traditional tactics to take them down. Once they’d incapictated all the rangers and Caden de Bain, they got Rath to look after the boy and started interrogating the rangers. Sal realized that Caden de Bain was one of the ones from their list, Deadfall, and he taunts them throughout their fight and questioning. Talking about the most important figures from Nacean culture like they’re nothing, revealing that they were the ones turned into the first Shadows and that they created the Shadows in Nacea, using Naceans. And Sal is livid.This changes Sal’s entire perception of what happened, they didn’t just reroute the Shadows towards Nacea, they didn’t only not warn or protect the Naceans and leave them for dead. No, instead they purposely and knowingly tortured them and let them kill each other. Sal kills him. 

Rath felt really betrayed because Sal just killed probably the only person who knew and could’ve told them where Cam is. But Sal knew that Deadfall never would’ve told them unless he knew it would hurt them or if he could mislead them. Logically Sal knew it, but emotionally Rath couldn’t accept that Sal just threw away their only chance. Rath views it as Sal putting their own agenda and orders over helping their family and other lost children like them. 

 For foreshadowing purposes Sal found another severed ear in the barn with the rangers and realised that they aren’t just runes, they’re Nacean. The next morning Sal awakes to Lena de Arain passing by in a carriage, surprisingly with Maud. Since Maud is Erlend she says she wanted a chance to see where she was born and potentially find her younger siblings and help get them out of orphanages. But something was clearly off, Sal could tell and they were sure something was wrong. While pulling her into a hug Sal hid a quick and quiet conversation, Maud warned them to go back to the Palace but didn’t explain anything else. Without any other pleasantries they parted ways and on the way back to Willowknot Sal collides with Emerald and they make the journey back together. 

 At the palace the Left Hand, the Queen and other members of the high court are in a meeting trying to locate the remaining Erlend spies and/or assassins. They’d narrowed it down to the servants, they just didn’t know who. While they’re discussing who it could be and how they’d go about making the place safer Dimas walked in {if you don’t know who this character is, he was sort of like the head servant during the auditions and throughout the books}, apologising for his lateness and for pulling out a knife and attempting to kill the Queen. That obviously didn’t work, since all of the Left Hand and many other trained fighters were in the room, and he ended up pinned to the wall by one of Emerald’s arrows and with a few other injuries. 

 Sal was tasked with looking after him while the others went to either receive medical treatment or do other stuff. {This part is summarized very minimally because I talk more in detail about this after the summary. So keep reading for more information on this part and why it was very important to both the story and Sal specifically.} But while talking with Dimas Sal realises something major, he is Nacean. The only other living Nacean Sal had ever met and Sal was the same for him. Dimas had done what he had to. He did what he was told to after the Erlends proved to him that they have his mother and sister alive and threatened to kill them. And Sal understands they’d probably have done the same and while they’re both there they talk of Nacea, lost memories, what they mean and how they are now. But their conversation didn’t end pleasantly, in fact it ended in an explosion (literally). 

The explosion didn’t kill Sal, but Dimas got away and they have many injuries. In the next meeting the Queen assigns Sal to go after and kill Dimas and finish their remaining list anyway they can, all rules off. And by the next day, Sal was on their way again.

 Sal first goes about finding Two from the auditions, they meet up with her and she easily agrees to help them. Her real name is Adella and Sal tells her everything. Since some of the things Sal had to do and wanted to do were in the same area they actually went to find Rath first. They eventually found and met up with Rath, he’d found the rangers that were taking kids and was ready to take them on. With the three of them together and things between Sal and Rath not perfect but still way better than before, they move forward to ambush the rangers… 

 And are almost immediately stopped and overpowered by the one and only Lady de Arain and her men. They took Sal, Rath and Adella to another barn, tied them up and had them all defenseless. Lena is an Erlend spy and she betrayed Igna, Sal would’ve had no way of knowing but that didn’t change the situation they’re in. And on top of everything Maud is there too, serving Lena tea. Sal puts the pieces together that Lena is the last unknown name on their list, Riparian, and in their conversation Lena misgenders them purposely and freely talks about judging people’s financial worth and letting those ‘not worth their severance pay’ die. 

 Dimas shows up and puts a bag over Adella’s head and shoves her into a trunk for ‘testing’. Riparian then moved to Rath, when she questioned him Rath spat directly in her face and paid for it by being quickly killed by one of the guards. This broke Sal. Rath used his last breath to remind Sal of Cam and that even though he was dying he still needs Sal to find Cam and continue to help and save other kids like them.  Riparian moves to kill Sal, and Sal’s only response to Maud suggesting to drown them is to laugh until they’re on the bridge, hands tied behind their back, Rath is pushed into the water beside them and they’re about to be next. 

 Once Sal was underwater they were able to push off their jacket and slip out of the knots tying their hands, they knew to stay under long enough everyone could think they died. As they were fighting to survive, all they could think was that Maud knew they could swim. They mourned and grappled with the loss of Rath and everything else Erlend had taken from them, the closest thing they really had to a family and they can’t stop themselves from blissfully thinking about what they and Rath could’ve been if it weren’t for the actions of the Erlends. Sal gets out of the water and when they wake up next they backtrack to where the rangers had been. They restart the fire and trade theirs for the dead ranger’s dry clothes. They make Rath a funeral pyre even though his body was lost to the river, Sal vows to avenge him, to find Cam, keep him safe and look after all of Rath’s kids.

 Sal heads to Hinter and while they’re there they sneak back to see Elise and warn her about Lena being Riparian, except… Elise doesn’t believe them. Lena was Elise’s mentor and she can’t believe Sal would lie about Lena killing Rath to try and make her believe them about Lena’s intentions. The break of trust is mutual, Elise no longer trusts Sal and she loses theirs as well. A few days later and Sal is out of Hinter and has caught back up with Riparian, Maud and Adella. Sal was able to communicate with Maud in secret and witness what they’d been doing to the kid’s ears, when they did it to Adella. It’s how to tell if a kid can use magic or not, if their ears remain whole they can’t use magic but if the ink burns their ear off then they can. Magic was never truly banished but anyone who’d used it before was unable to and so were their kids, but the ones who’d never been touched by magic were now the only ones able to use it.  

 Days later they reached the border into Lynd, North Star’s territory. Sal is miraculously able to sneak in by hiding on the bottom of their wagon, holding on from beneath. Once they pass the border Sal uses signals to let Maud know where they are and Maud is also smart enough to get the people talking to give Sal more information. When the wagon stopped Maud and Dimas went to another building she left the door ajar so Sal could follow them in. Sal sneaks in after them and quickly corners Dimas, he’s bound and he’s their most valuable source of information. He explains that kids can still use magic and that since his parents didn’t use magic, he can still use it today. 

 This new information made Naceans the perfect mages and people who had runes only for healing the perfect Shadows. Sal finds out in an instant that there are more Naceans alive, and Dimas is helping the Erlends find the ones with potential to be good mages or Shadows to save his family. He was killing many more Naceans to save two. Dimas revealed that even though Weylin/North Star let some Naceans resettle on his lands, he’d want magic back one day and he’d already discovered he could use it. One of Dimas’s mothers sent him south to Igna where he became a servant. Dimas was going to turn Adella into a Shadow, and leave her in a locked off room, instead Sal directs him inside and locks him in. 

 Sal moves on, searching for more lost kids and Cam, but they find something entirely different, a Shadow. But not the same type of Shadow as Sal had known before, this one could talk and she was accompanied by a real person. That’s how Sal found out there were real Shadows again, and they weren’t just in another flashback or dream. The Shadow named Namrata disappeared once she realized Sal was afraid of her and the alive woman took them to see Cam, who was thankfully alive and real. Cam even knows who Sal is since Rath used to talk about them. After confirming that Cam is fine, Sal goes to talk with the Shadow maker, she is Moira Namrata, the Last Living Star of Nacea, Lady chosen, blessed and alive. 

There are ten thousand Naceans scattered throughout Erlend, Weylin and Erlend had lied to them and said the war was still going on. Once they’d found out Naceans could use magic they separated them even more into small isolated villages. And he threatens the death of an entire settlement if any of the ones he has in Lynd step out of line. They move to Moria’s lab and keep talking about Igna and Nacea. North Star had lied to them and said the Shadows were from Alona, and then slowly started taking Naceans to Lynd and Moira was one of them. But when her mother came looking for her and found out what was really going on she wasn’t allowed to leave, she eventually became the first new Shadow. North Star made sure the Naceans had no chance and had to do what he wanted them to, they were too separated to coordinate and too misled to have any idea what is going on. Moira and the other Nacean mages there have been able to avoid using the kids sent their way as much as possible and lie to North Star to not have to make more Shadows then necessary. But now they’re ready to try and kill him and they need Sal’s help. 

 But they get into a slight disagreement regarding the authenticity of these new Shadows, it doesn’t matter that they were made differently or were ‘controllable’ to Sal. Moira had never seen the first Shadows in action but Sal had seen them rip through their family, and they weren’t about to work with one. In fact, Sal also can’t use runes even just as a signal, it goes against everything they’d known and they can’t bring themselves to use them especially since they know they might be able to use magic now. 

 Moira asks Sal if they could take control of someone they love and tear them apart from the inside. But they counter her by asking if she could kill someone without hesitation even if they’d done nothing wrong, something Sal had nearly done. {Here there is a parallel between Moria, Emerald and Amethyst, Sal asked them all the same question, “How do you live like this?” and they more or less gave the same answer.} Weyin had forced Moirao to kill and torture people to stop him from killing other people, but she does it because she knows if it wasn’t her then it would be someone else that she’d been trying to protect that would have to learn magic, make Shadows and decide who dies. Moira, like Emerald and Amethyst, wouldn’t let anyone else bear that. 

 Their plan is for Sal to sneak into the main building and steal Lena/Riparian’s records since she’d know where the Nacean settlements are and get them back to Moira. They’d planned on killing North Star soon and revealing everything he’d been doing to the public of Lynd. Sal gets into the building and North Star, Riparian, Elise and even Maud are all inside having a sort of dinner party. Eventually Sal gets a chance to secretly talk to Elise and she now knows the truth about Lena and what she’s done and she is here doing everything she can against Erlend from the inside. They’re able to coordinate and start working together. That night Sal sneaks into Riparian’s room and steals her ledgers, then they quickly make their way to Elise’s room so she can copy them. That way Moira has a copy of the numbers but Riparian won’t notice them missing. Sal also fills her in on what’s going on and everything new they’ve learned about magic and Nacea. 

 The next morning Sal escapes and heads back to Moira with Adella. When they all meet back up they can start planning their next moves. [Important detail; these Shadows aren’t always in a physical form, they travel between Earth and death, they only come when they’re summoned.] Sal suggests using poison to get the guards out of the way and when that idea isn’t exactly well received, tarar. Something that only makes you vomit, this will get lots of guards and servants out of the way. North Star was planning on showing off the new Shadows to a select few loyal Erlend families, but Moira invited more and is ready to expose the truth.

 But later when Sal goes to finally capture North Star, Winter is there in his place. And when they fight it’s nearly a repeat of what happened the first time, but this time Sal has no mercy and only vengeance. As soon as Winter is secure Sal rushes to find Elise, if North Star knew of their plan then surely so did Riparian. And when Sal gets to her room she’s laid out on the bed, with a half empty tea cup by her side. Sal initially thinks she’s dead, but she’s still alive. She could tell it was a trap and only pretended to drink her tea and fall asleep, now Riparian and North Star were trying to escape, but they got Winter and Lydn would know everything anyways.

 Sal goes after Riparian, they crash her carriage and fight all the rangers who tried to protect her. They catch her and they bring her back to Lynd for the trial. They make sure Erlend will know what she did, how much she’d thought they were worth compared to her and that North Star had used Erlends to make the very first Shadows even before they were used in Nacea. During the Trial of Winter and Riparian Moira read a list of names that Erlend had killed at one point or another in their fight to regain magic and make Shadows and the war. There are names from Erlend, Alona, Nacea and even other nations across the oceans. There’s so many names and the present Naceans add more, everyone is outraged. Moira let the crowd of Erlends decide what to do with Winter, and they left him to the Shadows. 

 Riparian is different. She had no regrets, she was perfectly aware of what she’d done but didn’t care and still thought she was protecting Erlends and “saving people.”  She reveals that North Star knew they were planning something and sent his rangers to kill all the Naceans. Moira sends her Shadows immediately to the settlements to stop them. Sal takes over talking to the crowd and we find out the extent of Erlend’s lies to their own citizens. They thought the Erlend nobles that were a part of the Queen’s court were prisoners of war and that they’d escaped, when in reality they were trusted allies and traitors. Riparian wasn’t thrown to the Shadows but she was left to Sal, who chased her and talked to her throughout their fight. They were still unable to make her see what she’d done wrong, even in death she couldn’t comprehend that she was a terrible human. 

 Now they’re focusing on Nacea and Erlend and stopping the war. Sal is quickly healed with a small rune and assigned to go after North Star, but it gets worse. Moira informs Sal that North Star had contacted the Queen, and said that he has control of a large human army and an army of Shadows. And that if she doesn’t give him more control of the northern land and withdraw her troops, he’ll kill any non-Erlend within that territory. Everyone knew she’d signed it but it wasn’t even that simple, the contract was bound by magic and if she signs it then they will both be politically and magically bound to fulfill the agreement. With the terms of the treaty and knowing the Queen will sign it for sure, it makes Sal killing North Star and the other Erlend nobles a war crime and something they’d likely be executed for either way (to calm political situations).

Sal would be like Ruby, a war criminal but still fighting for justice. Sal knows and understands this, and they will still do it. And at the end of the day, the deal was between Erlend and Igna and Sal was Nacean. 
Sal knows they are probably going to die, so they take stock of all the good parts of their life. Elise. Rath. Maud, ‘who’d be pissed enough to bring me back to life only to yell at me for not saying goodbye’. Emerald and Amethyst. Moria and Nacea. They spend the last of their time with Elise and confess their love for each other.

Halfway through Sal’s journey, all the way back in Hinter, Adella meets up with Sal and they start traveling together again. They finally find and get to North Star’s base, it’s Adella’s 19th birthday and she’s finished her list. Her bucket list of things to do (that she’d made with Three and Four) and now she doesn’t know what to do {exactly like Sal might feel after they finish their list and their revenge is fulfilled}. They decide to kill him with fire and burning the entire place down, Adella takes Sal’s second mask and distracts the guards while Sal sneaks in. Inside they find the treaty and it’s been signed, so Sal starts setting everything they can on fire and locking every door they can. When Sal finds North Star they fight, Sal is fully prepared to die and during their fight they remind him of how he didn’t think twice about killing Nacea until he found out he needed them. And he responds by calling Nacea dead in Nacean and attempting to punch Sal, who pins him down with their knives. Sal reminds him of what he did to Nacea, make them learn magic, make Shadows and gave them the power to defeat him. He took everything from them.

He laughs because he knows Sal will die, he doesn’t understand that they don’t care about Opal dying. And they’ll die together, since no one would trust the Queen politically anyways if she let Sal live after they killed Lena de Arian and Gaspar del Weylin, Riparian and North Star.

The following is a long excerpt from the ending, this will spoil everything so don’t read it if you want to experience this story for yourself later on. I really wanted to include this here because it sums up the series so well and is a great way to fully understand Sal and their motivations.

“I had not become Opal because I was Nacean, because I was displaced, because I was Sal.
This was my choice, and North Star would take no more choices from me. From anyone.
But for every reassurance, every sorrow, I’d still killed more people than I’d ever loved.
And death was final; my hand in it was a mess of blurred, uneven moral lines and questions no one could straighten out.
I was infinite and understandable, a dozen inaccuracies and uneven edges held together by gentle memories-my mother cutting my hair and letting me wear her earrings on my birthday; stealing a tray of smoked venison with Rath and having to toss it to the dogs giving chase till we were left with nothing but sweaty clothes and laughter; the swish of wool over wool beneath the hum of words as Maud, knowing I hated the quiet but never wanting to presume, moved her chores into my quarters and read Elise’s history books aloud to me; Elise, a smear of charcoal along her jaw and a twister-tight curl bouncing with each breath, staring at me from across the pages of a book and translating lines of poetry faster than I could think while teaching me Erlenian; the soft sounds of Nacean in my ears as Moira read off the names of all living from the country just to prove it survived and calm the fear inside of me.
Beneath all the grit and love and blood, I was and always would be Sallot Leon.
And Sallot Leon would always be whether the rest of the world liked it or not.
Opal would die as Opal had been.”

Summary of epilogue and what it means for the conclusion of this series:

The epilogue starts with Sal explaining that the Left Hand are no longer assassins. Igna is trying to be more honest and now that the war and conflict are gone, things can start to change. Now the Left Hand are elite guards and protectors of important people for Igna, Emerald and Amethyst are starting the process of auditioning for a new Ruby. And Sal’s there too, wearing one of the auditioner’s masks, a Four {I think this is a reference to Four from Sal’s first audition and he died with Sal by his side. I think this is symbolic of Sal’s literal new start and new life}.

They recognize Sal the second they hear their voice, and quickly pull off their mask. Technically Sal could’ve been arrested and tried for their ‘war crimes’ against the Erlend nobles they’d killed in Lydn and Hinter, but the surviving Left Hand start to cry instead. Everyone had thought them dead, when really Sal and Adella were slowly working back the strength to make the journey back to Lynd and Moira. By the time they got there Elise and Maud and everyone else had already left.

Opal was dead and so was Sallot Leon, Sal could never publicly be Sal anymore but that was okay. Because Sal can still be Sal in private and with other Naceans with Moira’s help. Sal also found some of their father’s surviving northern family, they aren’t so lost and scattered anymore. Sal was officially picked for Ruby after one day of auditions.

Sal’s reunion with Maud was iconic. Firstly, because Sal reveals who they are and that they’re alive by taking off their mask and asking if they look good in red, as opposed to the white they used to wear as Opal. And Maud immediately hits them and cries, and when she talks about how Sal was dead and a criminal Sal can only respond with, “I was always a criminal though.”  The most emotional part is that Maud really thought Sal was dead and they didn’t even say goodbye.

{I found it funny that everyone was devastated over Sal’s death and then shocked when they came back, even though they literally followed Amethyst’s earlier advice: “Stay alive. And if that fails, do what you normally do,” perfectly. Also Sal walking into Willowknot and telling Roland he forget the hand for the Ruby audition is peak Sal comedy, because Sal brought in a hand during their first audition and there was no point trying to hide their identity from people like Roland who already knew them in court, so they just walk into a place where everyone thinks they’re dead and start cracking jokes. Sal is a truly legendary character. }

Moira decided to start the process of honouring the loss of Nacea, they all wanted something that was actually meaningful and showed grief, instead of a more simple and delicate memorial. They decided on putting up mirror-like silhouettes of lost Naceans all throughout those lands. And Sal will never be alone in their grief again, they’ll never feel like they’re the only ones mourning for Nacea. And Sal was alright; nearly, mostly.

Elise is still around and writing history, recording meetings and preserving things for the future. Cam and the other Nacean and non-Nacean kids who were taken to Lynd are having fun with magic and got close with each other. They created a whole new family, with more new beginnings for nearly lost children.

Sal as the new Ruby is announced to the court and they have another party, Elise and Sal dance again just like the first time, except now they don’t have a whole bunch of Erlend murders to urgently worry about. Sal is Ruby, a new mask with no names or memories, a fresh start. In the very end of this series, the Shadows died and so did those so intraced in war they couldn’t see what they were really doing. But Nacea and Sal lived.

My favourite moments from Ruin of Stars, these are out of order and include spoilers:


“He whimpered and I lived, furious and alive, Sallot Leon, auditioner Twenty-Three, and Opal all crushed right there by his hands. He didn’t know fear like me. He didn’t know anything.”
“The best parts of my world were scattering.”

“If I slept now, would the word still be here when I woke?”

“But I don’t think you need redemption. The world that made us does.”


Maud to Sal, after not seeing them for a long time: “Oh, you’re filthy.”
“My servant resigned.”

Sal: “Which one (mask) do you think is scarier? This one or the midnight one?”
“Your actual face,” Maud said without so much as blinking.

Emerald gave Sal poison proof gloves because they “didn’t know poison from punch and was likely to die before midnight.”

Moments and things I have extra things to say about:

Emerald says, “Opal if you were sent to kill Our Queen, how would you do it?”
I laughed. Our Queen didn’t. “Knowing what I do about this place? Lock the doors to a court meeting in one of the weird, escape-proof rooms and set the place on fire.” {I just realised while typing that this was Foreshadowing.}

Sal says to Rath, “Is this going to be fun-fun or you-get-us-both-killed fun?”
He shrugged. “Fun.”

This moment is a call back to the very first chapter of the series, except the roles are reversed and the first time it was ‘get-us-both-arrested’ if I remember correctly. I love the recurring jokes, it helps establish the relationships between the characters and is really cool to see in stories like this.

Sal says to Rath, “Don’t throw away better weapons.”
This is a callback to the end of the first book when Ruby said the same thing to Sal, it shows Ruby’s influence on Sal and how they’re learning. It also highlights the similarities between Ruby and Sal and how Ruby was teaching Sal and now Sal is helpinging Rath.

In both books there were a few random moments where Sal would interact with just a random background character but they were some of my favourite moments. Because seeing how a random person that isn’t one of the main characters would react to certains things or just act in their daily lives is very cool and helps with world building.

Also these were often moments when people who didn’t know Sal help them out or just go along with what they’re doing, which makes them even more entertaining. For example, in this book Sal is seen by a random servant but avoids being caught by signaling to them that they’re Nacean. So the servant ignores Sal and doesn’t say or do anything to stop them.

Throughout nearly the entire series, I think since even before Ruby died but definitely starting after, Sal starts judging people’s bowing and etiquette based on how Ruby taught them and even in the epilogue a Sal was still only a 9/10.

The Shadows never looked up, that’s how Sal was able to survive to begin with, by climbing a tree and not being able to do anything but hold on. The men guarding North Star’s base also never looked up until they gave them reason to, which allowed Adella and Sal to sneak in and kill them. The overall lesson here is that you should not forget to look up, but there’s also clearly parallels between the Shadows and the people that created them.

My Comments, includes some spoilers, mainly with warnings first:

Now onto my thoughts and comments, what I’m talking about is basically all the things that stood out to me or I thought I should point out for potential readers. But if you missed my review of the first book (Mask of Shadows) then you should absolutely go check it out since a lot of the comments and compliments I gave there stand for the entire series and I won’t be mentioning here.

There was actually a lot of foreshadowing for the Lady de Adrian and Maud twist, even from the third chapter. All the foreshadowing throughout this entire series has been well placed, completely logical and very well done.

Starting off, this book had a map of the world it’s set in, which I was very grateful for. It wasn’t getting confusing or anything but seeing the places on a map made it a lot easier to understand the layout and where everything is in relation to each other. The map is also especially helpful since it includes the names of lots of the cities the main character goes to for the first time, so being able to see them on a map makes it easier to visualize.

Also I’ve already talked about the amazing and incredibly unique character names but the place names are great original ones too! Like The Blue Silk Sea and The Sun-Drenched Coast. Even the title of the book is a beautiful name with an even deeper meaning, I personally think the name is very symbolic. “Ruin of Stars,” most of it is about Nacea which is nearly a ruin or was ruined by the Erlends, we also met one of the last Nacean Stars and Sal often prays or refers to the Lady’s Stars. So the name doesn’t just sound pretty and interesting, it has an amazing meaning which is strongly connected to the story and the main ideas in this book.

Another thing I thought was done very well was the way the author was still introducing more lore and information throughout this book as well as in the first one. Here we learn even more of the history of Erlen or how it originally was Eredan, and how it had ruined itself with greed and then destroyed the country of Aren (before Alona), by working their way to the positions of power and continuing to be greedy, eventually changing it into Erlend.

Even though the possibility of Sal using magic was introduced and briefly explored it never actually happened, which I really love. Many times in other pieces of media once the main character discovers they have access to some kind of power or exclusive ability they’re regarded as special and immediately take it up or are great at it. But here nothing about Sal changes when they find out they might be able to use magic, because they still don’t trust magic, they don’t want to use magic and I’m glad they never did or had to.

During this book, in the period of time when Sal and Emerald were traveling back to Willowknow together, Sal learns so much more about Emerald and her character is really explored more in depth. Sal asks her a lot of questions and how she answers seems very important to knowing who she is and more about the world and magic. Emerald lets them know that it was easy to see how they used to love the Queen and when they started hating Igna nobles too. Emerald became Emerald because she can handle killing while others can’t. Emerald talks of the beginning of Igna and why there is a Left Hand, they’re making sure everyone has what they need to to make the world better than they ever could.

There’s even more representation in this book, there’s asexual and aromantic characters, other bisexual and non-straight characters, more nonbinary and genderfluid background characers and someone who’s transgender. There’s a character with two mothers and a scene in which two girls flirt, in addition to the more prominent relationship between Elise and Sal. On this topic, at one point Elise talks about being attracted to women and how Lena had to tell her it was okay, since Erlend and her father were against it.

Sal also still talks about how others don’t and shouldn’t be able to define you or anyone else, you get to say who you are and you get to live as you are. “I was Sal, fluid and sure, and that was my Lady-given right to exist as myself. To let others exist as their selves”. Sal is also very clearly mad that everyone always makes their identity about them and what other people are comfortable calling them.

Erlends keep misgendering Sal because of what they’re wearing, they respond saying clothes have no assigned gender, but people think they do and Sal was using that to their advantage. But they explained how tiring it was to have to constantly mold and change themself into someone else’s idea of who they’re supposed to be, rather than just being them.

In both books in this series there is a subtle theme of kids having to pay for or deal with things completely out of their control or that happened when they were not born yet or too young to have anything to do with it. Like Sal and other Naceans being forced to live with the grief of losing their families, homes and being scattered and alone after the war. But also Erlend kids like Elise who have to grow up under strict traditions and ideology. Sal even mentioned how there were probably tons of Erlend kids who were raised thinking that their existence was wrong and that couldn’t be themselves. And no child or person should ever have to go through that, whether it’s fictional or not this sadly happens.

On a similar note both Sal and Elise talk about the dreams they have as a result of their varying trauma from the war, Sal dreams of frantically running still fighting to escape the Shadows, while Elise wakes up hiding in random places like she once had to do during the war. There were probably thousands of other kids that grew up in similar situations and also suffered the same way the main characters did.

I don’t have any personal experience with this so I can’t confirm that this is accurate but I thought this book showed Sal’s trust issues very well. In the first book they spent ages learning how to trust Maud and getting close to her, but when it looked like she might’ve betrayed them they immediately thought she did at first. Until she made it clear that she was loyal to Sal. Also with Dimis’s reveal and finding out one of the nobles from court was on their list (Riparian/Lena), that they’d talked and confided in someone who sacrificed their entire nation. And again when they found out Elise lied to them Sal even thought “I could hold onto nothing. Nothing was in my control.” which to me shows the weight of everything the character has gone through leading up to that moment and easily everything is slipping away from them and probably even more when Elise didn’t trust or believe them about Lena.

More on the conversation between Sal and Dimas, spoiler warning for this section skip it to avoid them:

I really liked the hidden foreshadowing with the Dimas plot twist. Having Sal already be suspicious of or dislike Dimas even if the first book and then pulling that plot twist. Sal said it themself, “Least you justified my dislike of you.” But having Dimas and Sal clearly not like each other for the start and then bringing them together in a weird way, was really interesting. Them both being Nacean, having the same grief and not ever knowing there was anyone else like them even though they were in the same court for months. Slightly bounding over their lost families, nearly forgotten heritage and faded memories.

The scene where Dimas and Sal first talk is one of the most well written, emotional and powerful parts of this entire series, which is saying a lot. When Sal and Dimas first start talking Sal hears him referring to ‘Lady’ but they assume that he is talking about a noble Lady, later they realize he is referring to The Lady in the way they do. And when Sal asks for his name to confirm if he’s Nacean or not, he’s hesitant but eventually admits his Nacean name. And they both meet another Nacean for the first time since the war. Once Sal understands that Dimas is Nacean they start speaking in their language and he realizes Opal is Nacean as well. They keep talking and Sal finds out a lot of Naceans ran north into Erlend to escape the Shadows, instead of south to Alona/Igna. But Dimas can’t fully remember how they got to Erlend and he doesn’t think any of the other Naceans survived, besides his mother and sister. He didn’t think they were alive until secret Erlends brought him proof and threatened to kill them both if he didn’t do what they told him to. And Sal understands completely, they wouldn’t let their family die again either.

While they’re talking there’s mentions of cities and locations and Sal can’t bring themselves to smile in the moment but it’s more than they’d ever dreamed of. Not just somebody to talk to but somebody who understands and knows more than them. Dimas is also the first person to get Sal’s name right on the first try (Sallot), which doesn’t seem very meaningful but is.

Dimas asks Sal if they were old enough to pick their name, Sal can’t remember ever being called anything else but they have vague memories and they ask him about it. You write and burn your new name so it’s known by the Lady, Dimas has a scar from accidentally grabbing a candle flame during his name ceremony. This is a moment that really builds the connection between these two characters, Sal can barely remember it but Dimas helps them and they’re both finally able to share the thing they’ve been hiding for years, memories of Nacea.

One of the last things Sal gets to ask him is if they count as Nacean. Sure, Sal was born there but they can’t really remember much about it and they don’t know if they’re doing things right. And Dimas answers something to the effect of “I think so, Nacea is home and home is a feeling.” Ever since the war Dimas has been pretending to be Erlend, he still felt out of place and sad. It’s so different from what Nacea was and it never got easier or better, he was still stuck pretending to be someone he’s not and never wanted to be. After Dimas opens up about that Sal tells him about how they often feel, they explain the weight of their grief and loss. That they can hardly even remember their family and their memories of Nacea are vague and unsure.

And in that moment Sal tells Dimas what they’re really doing, killing the Erlend nobles who made the decision to kill Nacea. Sal can’t let them do that to anyone else and although Dimas isn’t happy about it, he’s sorry that Erlend made them both have to do what they’re doing. After Dimas uses magic to blow up the room he checks to make sure Sal is okay before he leaves, I don’t think he would’ve cared if he hadn’t found out Sallot was Nacean. Grief united them and I think they understood each other to a certain degree. They’re ‘two sides of the same coin,’ one fighting for revenge and payback while another is just trying to salvage what’s left of their family and home before it’s all gone. Once Sal finds out Dimas is Nacean they don’t think they could kill him, they wouldn’t have been able to destroy the closest thing they’ve ever gotten to a piece of Nacea. And even towards the climax of the story Sal still never really hurts him and tries to help find his family and keep them safe.

During the scene in which Dimas and Sal are first talking and discover each other are Nacean Dimas says that they never used to bow to Stars and that’s part of why Erlend was so different. But later on in the book both Sal and Dimas bow to the last Star of Nacea when they meet her, which is a direct contradiction of that. I think it’s such a good way of showing how the influence of Erlend and the ways of the court changed them both, and how because of the terrible circumstances of their lives neither of them know what they would normally do as Naceans, since Nacea was killed and scattered they’d have no way of knowing.

Thoughts and comments specifically about Sal, includes spoilers:

While receiving medical treatment from Isadora Sal has a panic attack, they have them every now and then along with reliving horrible memories from Nacea and the Shadows. Sal having panic attacks and haunting memories obviously isn’t good, but it makes the trauma so much more realistic and is really accurate for their character.

While Sal is first talking to Moira they ask a lot of questions, they’ve never fully known Nacea and now they’re closer than they’ve ever been. The first thing they ask is about how forgiving the Lady is, Sal has killed many people but mostly they deserved it. And Moira explains that what differentiates between them and the Erlends is that the Erlends think themselves better than everyone else due to their heritage and have never been brought to justice. Sal asked if they were Nacean, if they still could be, if they counted. And they are, even if they don’t remember the Lady’s rules. She is understanding and Sal can repay their debt. Sal isn’t a bad person because good and bad are relative, Sal wants to help make a better and safer world for everyone, Sal wants to hold the people who killed for their own accountable and Sal still feels guilty over the things they’ve done. But they’re Nacean. Nacean and strong.

During Sal’s last fight with Riparian she cuts them right where they’d cut themselves to hide Elise’s ring in the beginning of the first book. To me that symbolizes them going full circle but differently now. In the moments before Sal kills her there’s lots of call backs to the beginning before anything happened and everything went wrong. It really is true that Erlend created the Sal that killed them.

After Rath died it’s clear that once the initial grief of losing him had passed Sal all they were thinking about was Cam. And they knew they were going to do anything and everything they could to find and save Cam, because that’s what Rath wanted so that’s what Sal will do, even above and before their Opal’s tasks.

Overall thoughts and opinions: 

 I also am really, really glad and thankful that this series is in first person. Because if it wasn’t and we as readers wouldn’t get a constant play by play inside of Sal’s head. I would’ve been so upset and missed out on so many funny remarks and important thoughts. Overall I love this book, especially the ending and how it misleads the readers as well as the other characters. I really, really recommend this series to anyone but specifically people who like fantasy, since this is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read out of that genre. Thank you for reading and I hope you consider my thoughts and recommendations.