Author: Natalie Mae
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Audiobook Length: 12 hours 32 minutes
After surviving the Crossing, Zahru has sworn off adventures. While crown prince Jet navigates the looming threat of war, she’s content to simply figure out what the future holds for them. But they’re dealt a devastating blow when prince Kasta returns with a shocking claim: he’s the true winner of the Crossing and the rightful heir, and he bears the gods’ mark as proof. Even more surprising–he’s not the only one.
Somehow, Zahru possesses the very same mark, giving her equal right to the throne. The last thing she wants is to rule beside her would-be executioner, but she can’t let Orkena fall into his merciless hands. So Zahru, Jet, and their allies must race against the clock to find a way to denounce Kasta before their coronation, because once he’s crowned, there’s no telling what horrors he’ll unleash to win the war.
Zahru will do whatever it takes to keep Kasta from taking the throne…but to stop a villain, is she willing to become one herself?
[The Kinder Poison #1 Review]
The Cruelest Mercy is the sequel to The Kinder Poison, which is currently a duology. This set-up is one reason this review is very difficult to write. There is the possibility of a third novel to make this a trilogy as both fans and the author are in favor of this change. Since there is the possibility that this is the end, it alters my feelings a little about how I feel about this novel as the material can read differently depending on if this is a conclusion or a mid-book in a trilogy. While the ending is satisfying in a way if this remains as a duology, there is a semi-cliffhanger as there are multiple pieces that still needs more to fully wrap-up. While I loved this as a duology, I really would love to continue to follow the author’s vision of the “official” conclusion rather than inferring my own.
The story opens after the first novel ends. Jet is Dommel (the Crown Prince), Kasta is presumed dead, and Sakira is missing while Zahru tries to find her place now that the Crossing is over. When it is Jet’s coronation day, things do not go smoothly as Kasta returns. He possesses the Numet’s mark, which is awarded to the winner of the Crossing. To complicate everything further, Zahru is revealed to also have the mark. The Mestrah (King) proclaims that Kasta is now Dommel and Zahru will also be one where the two of them will rule together. Zahru is suspicious not only of Kasta’s return, but of how life would be if he is able to rule, so she sets out to find out the truth. This leads to multiple secrets, political intrigue, and many emotions as the characters try to navigate who will finally become the ruler in the end. The story continues to be told through Zahru’s perspective and I loved that the author chose to keep in her head. Zahru may have grew a lot as a character from the person the reader first meets in book one, but she still has a lot of the same traits that made her a joy in the first.
The tones between the two novels in the series are different, so readers might end up preferring one or the other for this reason. For me, I loved both of them as they fit the place the characters are in during each part of the story. Novel one’s tone would not work in this novel and vice versa. The characters in this story are amazing. Due to the obstacles, some characters from the first novel take a backseat and others that were background in the first now have a larger role. One character that has a larger part in this story is Zahru’s best friend, Hen. She is an excellent person to continue to have by Zahru’s side and I love their friendship. Zahru’s character shines a lot in this novel, as she is witty and clever. She has some insecurities about her power and some paranoia that plagues her in this story. She goes through many emotions, I love how she was multi-dimensional, and her character continued to be relatable and realistic.
On the romance side of things in the story, it really takes a back seat to the rest of the story. When I first started this series, Zahru meets and has a connection with Jet while Kasta was presented as the broody-type character. Before even learning about their personalities or any other details, I held out hope that Jet and Zahru would be together. In 99% of novels, characters like Kasta are the ones who end up opening up and becoming the one for the main character. Based on the initial writing, I held out hope that this would be the story to change this and be unique in this aspect. Since romance is not the main focus, there is no concrete conclusion to how the romance portion turns out, although it is explored a little. With that being said, I absolutely love the characters of Jet and Kasta. They are both complex in their own way and I could not chose a favorite between them. Kasta may be written as a very secretive and devious character, but Jet also has many secrets of his own. The difference is that Kasta’s is more out there and Jet is a lot more subtle. While they both have great tension with Zahru and different types of connection, I love their dynamic as brothers. They may not spend tons of time on the page together in either story, but the reader can easily feel the intense feelings they harbor for the other yet still care about them as siblings.
I actually have the audiobook and ebook versions of both novels in the series and it would be difficult to choose between them. There are amazing maps throughout the ebook versions that are excellent visual representations of the story. On the other hand, I absolutely loved Jesse Vilinsky as the narrator of Zahru (and the story) as she was perfect for this role. I do not think you can go wrong with either version. This series has been surprising as I am not a fan of love triangles, but this one is very well done and there is enough a plot where the romance is present but not the dominating factor. There are those that are Team Jet and those that are Team Kosta based on their love of the pairing. For me, either would be a good match; however, again, I lean towards Jet as he was introduced being caring rather than mysterious and these are typically the characters that are not chosen. Overall, this story has a bit of everything and I really hope that there is a third novel announced, as I cannot wait to read more about these characters and world!