Ruin of Stars

416p. Sourcebooks/Fire. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781492647522.
Gr 9 Up—In this sequel to Mask of Shadows, genderfluid Sal continues their career as Opal, one of the Queen's Left Hand, an elite assassin corps. Sal believes that they are the sole survivors of their homeland's annihilation and vows to kill every responsible political leader. Gruesome zombielike monsters, Shadows, are thought to be extinct with the banishment of magic, but they are being secretly harvested by Gaspar del Weylin—aka North Star—the kingdom's most powerful and ruthless leader. Sal's route to murder North Star and his cronies involves investigating the recent disappearances of children; surviving the deaths of friends and allies; and sustaining their romance with Elise, the daughter of one of Sal's targets. Political allegiances, real and false, are difficult to track even as the story reaches its conclusion. The convoluted plot and confusing multitude of geographical and personal names frustrate the flow of what could be an engaging genre-bending hybrid. A clear message about challenging society's binary gender and sexual orientation definitions motivates the Queen to unseat the supremacist leaders who devalue or outright forbid an individual's right to a spectrum of identities. Sal, in spite of all the throat-slitting, remains an endearingly sympathetic character, and their passionate voice for justice is this story's gem in the rough.
VERDICT Overall flawed world-building makes this ambitious fantasy a choice for fans of the first book who want to see Sal's journey through.

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