The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May is the follow up to the first book in her Scottish steampunk faerie series, The Falconer. Since I adored The Falconer so much, I went into this one with high hopes for another amazing and heart-pounding action adventures. It did NOT disappoint! In fact, I feel thoroughly exhausted right now from just how intense and face-paced this book was. It drove us forward into a war-torn world, from wicked faerie prisons to a destroyed Edinburgh. I felt like I fought battles, wielded a sword, and unravelled faerie secrets right alongside Aileana. I think that’s why I adore this series so much! It makes you feel part of the world, taking every step and breath with the protagonist.
The story takes off several months after the events of The Falconer. Aileana is now imprisoned by the wicked and evil Lonnrach as he drains her blood and roots through her memories looking for a hidden object. And Aileana is not alone alone, she has no idea if the world survived the breaking of the seal and every monster in faerie escaping into the world. Are her friends alive? What happened to her love, her mysterious faerie warrior partner, Kiaran McKay? Every day is a torment of wondering and hating herself from failing to keep everyone safe. Until she gets a chance to escape, aided by Kiaran’s long lost sister, who will stop at nothing to get Aileana back home. Except home is not what she left. And Lonnrach will stop at nothing to get her back. Even with her Falconer lineage making her a better warrior, it’s not enough. Aileana needs to unlock her powers — but the cost of that is so very deathly high.
As a huge fan of faerie stories in general, I really loved exploring May’s Scottish variation. I’m used to the Irish strains with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books. But this really pulls forth a dark and viciously monstrous breed of faerie who are very far removed from being human. Sometimes I found the rules of their powers a bit convoluted and would’ve preferred some clear-cut definitions, but overall it was nail-biting not knowing which fae alliances would hold and which were doomed from the start. We also explore more into the backstory of the Seelie and Unseelie rulers and some ancient and dark forces who have answers Aileana would do a lot for. It was also excellent to finally find out the origin of the Falconers themselves.
Aileana continues to be a collision of vulnerability and violent warrior. I love this about her! We’re not given a YA character who just bulldozes into any dangerous situation. Oh Aileana wants to fight. She will fight anything (Kiaran also is 10/10 fond of stabbing things and is frequently told to sit down). But the book takes time to explore the PTSD of the traumas she’s gone through, to talk about her fears and feelings. It made the story so personal throughout all the action scenes and plot twists. I also was relieved that the 1800s “proper society” speak and plot lines had been retired (um, due to the world turning to ash and war) because Aileana was less constricted by that and free to be her badass self.
The friendship between Aileana and Kiaran’s sister, Aithinne, was a delightful surprise! Finding female-friendships you just can’t help but root for is my favourite thing. Aithinne was also a fantastic character, a bit mad from being locked up so long, and very flippant in fighting so she’d try Aileana’s patience amazingly. She brought some humour to the otherwise intense and dark storyline. But Aithinne also had her traumas. The book touched on women bonding together and lifting each other up in the face of having been abused by a man, and it was very tone-appropriate for this day and age too.
The book also explores a lot of the backstory and history of the faerie kingdoms. It’s a lot, but it was so good to get answers…and obviously unwind more questions. Some of the story takes place in the pixie kingdom where there’s a fragile alliance with some of the fey and the remaining living humans. There are also explorations to fae realms and shadow realms, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Not to mention the battles! The word we’re after here is: INTENSE.
This was a very satisfying sequel, with no hint of a lagging pace, and I couldn’t have been more pleased! The unwinding romance of Aileana (a girl who causes chaos) and Kiaran (a boy who brings death) is addictive and satisfying and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the finale, The Fallen Kingdom.