Initial reaction: I think I'll see this series through to it's end, but this book was very mediocre, worse than the first book. The intrigue of the beginning and ending did not make up for how disjointed, meandering and derivative this book turned out to be. Unfortunate, because I really think it had the potential to be stronger. :-
My first full written review in about three weeks (broken internet - long and absolutely infuriating story), and it's going to be a (constructive) rant.
"Glass Sword" manages to take things that were decent about the first book and completely leave them by the wayside, turning it to an experience for the worst. I'm a bit at a loss for words for how mediocre it was in full reflection. The only good thing for certain I can say about this book is that the audio narrator did a fine job. I picked up this book from Audible using one of my credits around the time it was released. I've heard Amanda Dolan on a few other books before, and she did a great narration with this. If I hadn't read this via audio, I probably would have had an even harder time getting through this narrative. Dolan was able to infuse emotion that wasn't really delivered through the prose by itself.
Initially I came into this read hoping it would improve upon the first book in the series. "Red Queen" really wasn't the worst YA dystopian book I'd read, but it was very, VERY derivative (and grossly overhyped - reading the backstory on the publication of this novel and how it came to be made me realize exactly why that was the case. It saddens me to think about it.). Still, considering Mare's overarching journey and the political conflicts and places it could potentially go, I figured the series would be able to grow away from its derivative leanings, maybe even give Aveyard a chance to spread her narrative wings and improve upon the initial story with more development and characters that would be worth caring about.
I can deal with unlikable protagonists, and I could even understand if a main character (like Light/Kira in "Death Note" and Lelouch in "Code Geass") ends up with a really profound sense of power and ends up being corrupted by abusing that power when horrible circumstances rise to the surface. That kind of storyline has the potential to produce great things. If only Aveyard had the narrative prowess to craft a truly developed anti-heroine who would truly struggle with the weighted consequences of her actions (and I would've probably enjoyed the power/morality struggle from a female character's perspective in that case).
But Mare's an arrogant, unapologetic mess of a character, taking the reader on a meandering self-loathing journey through a great majority of the story. "Glass Sword" commences where the last book left off in terms of Mare and company making a grand escape and trying to find more red and silver blooded characters with special abilities like Mare to overtake the Silver domination and the would-be King who betrayed her trust and his ruthless mother. Mare's in a dark place in this novel - bitter and angry at the betrayals and her previous manipulation as a puppet by the Silver Court. That's palpable, sure, and I wasn't complaining in the very beginning as the novel got off to a more adventurous start with these potential points of tension. But when this information begins to repeat itself through many, many areas of the story, and Mare is the only character whose head we're in, it gets old very quickly. I feel like Aveyard - in these quite frequently overwritten displays - spent so much time trying to hammer home these repetitious details and being not so subtle with Mare's TCO status that it completely undermined the novel. This wasn't helped by the fact that you could still play YA dystopian BINGO with the tropes, themes, and even full scenes of this book. It didn't feel like a book with its own identity.
The secondary cast was full of stereotypes and lacking scene time or development. Mostly they revolved around Mare, and Mare was more about herself and being the only one who could rise against the Silvers with her special blood and identity as "The Lightning Girl", not to mention with finding the people who were most likely to lead her to victory. Did anyone else notice that for people she was supposedly very loyal to, Mare treated them with an inexplicable amount of distaste/dismissal? She forgot her family half the time and their worry (and with a certain character death that happens in this book, it was like he was portrayed as an afterthought - the emotional gravity/weight didn't match the portrayal Mare spoke about). She treats both Cal and Kilorn like crap most of the time with her half-like/half-undercutting dialogues about them. And the one character who manages to call Mare out on her contradiction (Cameron - whom I mentally fistbumped and said "SLAAAY" when she confronted Mare) is viciously undercut by Mare and crafted in the framework of having conflict with Mare solely.
You could say this entire novel is convenient with how the characters possessing special abilities are - instead of weighing the balance with their specific powers specific to their lives and identities - used as plot devices to help push along Mare's journey. It's not even subtle. They're forgotten puzzle pieces and lack flesh and development. One character shows up only to completely disappear as the story marches on in the gathering of allies, with the process being described as the same journey of disbelief and issuing of choice into whether to go or stay (and for me, this was lazy writing even in the process of describing their recruitment, save for maybe one or two instances).
The last 15% of the novel delivered some decent action and palpable scenes of tension with the confrontations Mare and company come across, but a stellar ending doesn't compensate for the long slog and utterly derivative nature of this novel as a whole. I think Aveyard knows how to write endings, but she doesn't do well with character development, identity, and plot balance very well (also: SUBTEXT).
Even still, I think I'll take one for the team and try the next book to see if (again) it improves from the point it ended on. But if it's just going to repeat this same pattern, the next book may be my last. It was just incredibly hard to get through, even call memorable among a sea of much better vetted and depicted dystopian stories. It has very little, if any, heart at all.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.