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I read The Sweetest Dark in order to read this book, which was helpful factually but not emotionally. I despised a primary character in the TSD and if I hadn't known that person, this book would have been even more enjoyable. Even forgetting the tinge from TSD, I found TDN's plot a bit hard to follow. It's an epic adventure compressed in too short a time frame, I think. A sprawling tome wouldn't have been too much in this case. Despite the rushed quest, TDN's strength is in the more complex feelings Lora develops as she comes more strongly into her powers. Without the distraction of novelty, she seems to consider more aspects of a given situation than she did in TSD. She is also more in control of her actions, although there is still an overarching lack of choice since something from Book One is still dictating from afar. Lora was a great character in the first book with lots of spirit and smarts, and Abe builds ably on that strong foundation. She gains more dimension and depth, as does Armand, Lora's ally, who is well-fleshed out in an appealing, realistic way. The other relationships established in the first book also take on nuance, mostly through Lora's wiser perspective. Her main female friendship particularly tickled me with its bite and sweetness.
It saddens me that I kept thinking that the two books of this set could have been something brilliant without said hated character. Lora is her weakest and most passive with that person as her actions (without that noxious influence) in this book attest. She truly comes into her own here in a way that wasn't fully hers in TSD. She bears the triumphs and the burdens of her choices and they make your heart ache in that involuntary way with characters who earn your affection. So while the plot isn't perfect, the characters make this well worth a read...just skip TSD. You'll never miss it.