S. Usher Evans | The Veil of Ashes (Sun’s Golden Ray Publishing)

360 pgs. | $3.99 Kindle Edition, $17.99 paperback

The Veil of Ashes is the sequel to The City of Veils and the second book in S. Usher Evans’ Princess Vigilante series, kicking in right from the cliffhanger end of the first book. Compared to the fast-paced, action-packed pages of its predecessor, the pacing felt a lot slower, but instead of feeling the constant need to nap due to second book syndrome, the slow pacing also feels necessary for the third book.

While Evans continues to build up the story for the third book, The Veil of Trust, much of the story is focused on Brynna’s development—beginning to face the fears of her past while learning what it means to be a Queen. She’s learning to make hard decisions she didn’t have to be as concerned with when she was The Veil and not directly in line for the throne, while also trying to gather support and allies so she can take back the Forcadel throne that’s rightfully hers by blood.

The Veil of Ashes goes beyond Forcadel’s borders as Evans also continues to build the world started in the first novel, which I enjoyed because, aside from new places, new characters are introduced. But while some of them are new, the vast majority are those who have played a vital role in making Brynna who she is when we first meet her. Although it was exciting to see Brynna’s relationship with them (and more of her backstory), we also see them push and challenge her. She may have been The Veil, stopping crime in her kingdom without anyone knowing her identity, but they also want her to realize it’s time to buckle up and step up to the plate. (She would rather not be a Queen as much as I don’t want to Adult sometimes, but she’d rather be in the position heself than a backstabber and most of the cast feels the same.) And maybe as a bonus, it’ll be nice to be in the good graces of someone high up (or at least be able to call in a favor in the future). Considering the importance of their role both in Brynna’s past and throughout The Veil of Ashes, it’s safe to say they’ll likely be essential characters in future books, too.

Although much of the book is ultimately about Brynna recovering outside of Forcadel after Illara’s betrayal at the end of the first book (and working on getting that throne back), Felix gets some page time as well. His chapters give an inside look at what Illara is doing to the kingdom she’s taken by force. He remains behind at the castle as the captain of Forcadel’s guard, trying to make plans and gather allies of his own while taking up The Veil’s mantle at night to try and keep the people’s hopes and spirits up. But despite his efforts, there’s growing tension and divisiveness among the people (even more so among the royal guards), because as far as everyone is aware, Brynna’s dead, and there’s no one else who could claim the throne.

Felix is no longer sure who to fully trust outside of a select few, and he’s slowly losing the confidence of those who were reluctant to accept Illara as their new queen as the book progresses. Illara makes it no secret that she’ll happily remove anyone who could potentially stand in the way of keeping the throne, including Felix, who’s her greatest threat as someone in a position of authority (and as a friend of Brynna’s family). She’s as well-aware of this fact as he is and makes it known whenever possible, slowly stripping away his powers as the captain while also strategically keeping his closest and trusted guards as far away as possible. After all, how else can you plot against her if everyone you trust is far away and you can’t trust anyone else? I would’ve liked to see more from his perspective in this novel, as there seem to be two main characters (Brynna and Felix) with different storylines that eventually intersect into one. Still, there’s enough provided in the chapters he does have to give an idea of what’s happening within Forcadel under Illara’s reign.

Like the first book, Evans ends The Veil of Ashes with a massive cliffhanger, leaving readers invested in finding out what happens and wanting more from the series. It’ll be interesting to see if Felix will gain more page time and chapters in the third novel or if it’ll be as teasing as the second (or maybe even none), and if Brynna will succeed in forming her plans and finally put them into action. Despite the slowed pacing, the second book was just as solid as its predecessor, building upon the first with plenty of character backstory and continuing their development. | Hannah Sophia Lin

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