Title: Misrule (Malice Duology #2)
Author: Heather Walter
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: May 10, 2022
One Sentence Summary: A century has passed since the events of the first book and Alyce now rules the Dark Court, but, as they decimate the Fae Courts, Aurora is unexpectedly awoken and an old prophecy comes to the forefront.
Misrule is the second in the Malice duology based on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Where the first book, Malice, felt like it was constrained by the movie, Misrule felt like the story was given a chance to breathe and become its own thing. I liked how it focused on the world building and how deeply ingrained prejudices affect the world, but it was tempered by my annoyance with Alyce. After ruling for a century, I expected her to have harder edges and to be more mature and jaded than Aurora, someone more evil and closer to the movie’s Maleficent. I very often found myself on Alyce’s side, though, so it was really a great deal of fun to get this Sleeping Beauty story from her eyes.
A century has passed since Aurora pricked her finger on the spindle and fell into an enchanted sleep, as told in Malice, the first book in this duology inspired by Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Now Alyce calls herself Nimara after an ancient Vila and leads the Dark Court. The creatures of the blighted Malterre have come streaming into Briar now that the humans have fallen in order to create a home where they feel welcome.
As the Dark Court swelled, they sought revenge on the Fae for having sought to destroy them in the first place, decimating Fae court after Fae court until only the Fae King’s court remains. Unexpectedly, a human washes up on Briar’s shores and the young man chooses to serve Nimara, but there are other forces out there and he inadvertently wakes Aurora, surprising the Dark Court and upending plans even as Alyce tries to win Aurora all over again while fighting the Fae.
Where the first book felt like it was constrained by the events of the movie, Misrule felt like it allowed the story to breathe and become its own thing. This was a much more fun read and I loved the depth given to the world building. There’s history and geography and details on how the Dark Court and the Fae courts function. I loved feeling like I was thrown into the world. I also really liked how the romance was woven into the fantasy story. While it was always there, I felt more like I was reading a fantasy novel than a romance. The one thing that grated on me was Alyce, but everything else was a lot of fun to read.
Misrule really opened up the world for me. While it was focused on Briar and the Dark Court, the rest of the world was always right on the fringes. The human world is out there across the sea, slowly suffering now that Briar has collapsed and there is no trade. The Fae courts are falling to the Dark Court and the High King doesn’t appear to be interested in invading the Dark Court in vengeance, making it easy for the creatures of the Dark Court to wreck their havoc. But I enjoyed the Dark Court the most. Not only is it the part we get to know best, but it’s populated by some really fun and interesting creatures and they have some fascinating events and ways of doing things. I loved that it was led by a council and, while not everyone got along well, they really tried for the sake of the Dark Court and for providing a home for all the creatures who have been persecuted and abused by the Fae and humans. Even though it’s the Dark Court and they did some terrible things for themselves, I really felt there was a lot of heart and love, and a firm resolve to protect their home.
As wonderful as the world was, Alyce was a huge problem for me. For someone so powerful who had lived and ruled for a century, she felt far too young. I would have expected someone that old who has ordered so much death and destruction to be more jaded and hardened, but she felt like a young adult, like she hadn’t actually aged beyond where she had been in the first book even though a hundred years had passed. I wanted more maturity and a harder edge to her. Instead, once Aurora was back on the scene, she felt like a lovesick puppy who could only see Aurora and nothing of the home she had crafted that would actually love and accept her exactly as she was. It was annoying and frustrating. I preferred her before Aurora woke up because she actually felt more like the ruler of the Dark Court. I can see how she had to evolve past that in order for the ending to occur, but I just hated that entire middle part where she was so wrapped around Aurora’s finger when Aurora went back and forth on how she saw Alyce.
The romance was not at all what I was expecting. I liked that it ended up feeling natural and Alyce and Aurora just didn’t fall into each other. There was a lot of shuffling between them, a lot of stepping forward and back and a ton of missteps. But I hated how it just seemed to consume Alyce. Aurora came off as this calm and collected young woman with a great deal of poise. She was absolutely a princess. In contrast, Alyce felt like a bumbling lovesick powerful being who couldn’t see anything past Aurora. Even her intense hate for Derek, the human who washed up on Briar’s shores who won some of Aurora’s friendship, grew annoying and it bothered me how it felt like the story was trying to set up a love triangle or force Alyce to hate someone who wasn’t as bad as she made him out to be, making it feel annoyingly petty. But the push and pull between Alyce and Aurora felt real and cautious. It also didn’t end the way I thought it would, which was a nice touch.
Misrule is full of manipulations, secrets, and hidden history. Since it’s told from Alyce’s POV, there is a lot unknown to the reader, so it was fun to watch it all unfold, to watch their mess become more and more tangled. So much of it did feel unnecessary since Alyce could have just grown up a lot, but I still did enjoy the messes they got themselves into. Really, though, this is the story of two groups who have seemed to have been at odds with each other practically since the beginning of time. There’s so much prejudice entrenched in them, but there’s this glimmer of hope. Alyce’s development often felt like it was pulling teeth, but I liked how it led up to the ending, which felt appropriately epic. It was great to see how it all came together and the effect it would have on the larger world.
I enjoyed all the secrets and getting to know so many fun and interesting characters. The story really felt like it came into its own, breathing new life into an old story and just letting the world and story explode. I liked how the events followed and especially enjoyed how what happened in Misrule followed from Malice and the world’s own history. Despite the things that bothered me, there was still a lot to endear me to the story and characters. They each really tried in their own ways, and they each had their own plots and manipulations. Watching them all collide was fun, but might have been a lot more fun if we hadn’t been constrained to just Alyce’s POV. Overall, Misrule was a lot more enjoyable than Malice, but I wished for a more mature main character.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Del Rey for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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