A House of Rage and Sorrow
by Sangu Mandanna
264pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.56/5

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A House of Rage and Sorrow is the second book in Sangu Mandanna’s Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy, a young adult series combining mythic fantasy with space opera to tell the story of Esmae Rey, a princess who grew up desperate to connect with her twin and the rest of the family she never knew—a princess whose very existence was kept secret by the mother who sent her away, fearing a curse involving her daughter.

In A Spark of White Fire, Esmae decided to step out of the darkness into the light after seventeen years of living in obscurity, despite having been warned by the war goddess who divulged her true identity to her that it would be best if she remained in the shadows. The heretofore unknown girl made shock waves throughout the galaxy when she not only bested beloved exiled prince Alexi Rey in a contest for the indestructible, god-forged sentient warship Titania but also revealed herself to be the formerly presumed winner’s twin. This one act led to a horrific vision foreseen by the gods, and though it didn’t exactly unfold as expected, Esmae still suffered great losses—including her dream of being her brother’s closest ally and standing by him to defeat the uncle who stole his crown.

When A House of Rage and Sorrow opens three months later, Esame has staunchly sided with the uncle who accepted and cared for her and started the war with her twin that many within their house had been working to avoid. She feels as though she’s let so many down—her grandmother, her cousin, her mentor, and even Titania, who had chosen to join the twin she believed least likely to set off the conflict brewing between the Reys—but she is too consumed by her rage and sorrow to end it. Esmae doesn’t want to simply kill Alexi—that would be too easy on him—but wants to destroy his reputation, incensed that he remains highly regarded even after publicly shedding his honor on the day he betrayed her. Yet with the god of tricks (and bargains! He hates it when we mortals forget that part!) aiding Alexi, the twins’ war threatens to escalate beyond their kingdoms: for he seeks to free an imprisoned great beast that would devour entire stars, all because she could bring battles with Titania to a stalemate.

After reading A Spark of White Fire earlier this year, A House of Rage and Sorrow became one of my most highly anticipated books of 2019. I pre-ordered a copy and began reading it soon after its arrival but was surprised to find it less riveting than the previous book, which had a vivid narrative voice and masterful pacing that perfectly balanced character development and plot. The sequel is actually too quickly paced: a slightly shorter novel that adds another perspective besides Esmae’s (Titania‘s) and seems more focused on shocking revelations and plot than characterization, despite its many characters. I also thought that the writing was not as poignant as the first, and though that may have been due to Esmae’s increasing anger and jadedness, I rarely felt her oft-mentioned rage earlier in the novel.

Like the series opener, many of the clues leading to big revelations are seeded with the subtlety of a flashing neon sign. Although predictability isn’t necessarily bad, I do prefer that hints regarding Big Reveals leave at least some question as to whether or not my suspicions could be wrong. Interspersing the warship’s viewpoint with Esmae’s also added exposition and more obvious tip-offs about certain events, even if it did include some interesting bits and pieces (and gave a better idea of how much Titania cares about Esmae, as well as providing more insight into her thoughts and emotions). Having an additional narrative also supplemented my impression that this book was less intimate and centered than the first with all the characters weaving in and out. I did appreciate that most of these personalities were not clearly “good” or “evil” and I was never bored by it, but I was underwhelmed for a while considering how thoroughly enjoyable I found A Spark of White Fire.

But it improved later and the last 20% is amazing—among the best, most memorable sequence of chapters I’ve read this year. Esmae is forced to confront a devastating truth, and her rage becomes palpable as it boils over into a frothing mess that will leave a permanent mark. Given this and the wonderful foundation set in the first book, I’m still obsessed with this trilogy and where it’s headed, despite believing the middle volume to be a weaker installment.

That’s in part because of the excellently handled themes and the way they tie in with and expand on those from the previous book. This series is largely about family, both biological and found family, and this sequel has parallels with the first as Esmae continues to chase wishes only to realize she already had what she’d been longing for the whole time. It concerns people making mistakes that cascade into problems for the next generation, and the cycle created when those who come after feel as though the odds are stacked against them and make the same mistakes. It shows Esmae grappling with the reality that she’s had to fight for every single scrap of power she’s accumulated while her twin brother has been freely given loyalty, love, and acclaim; it shows the courage of taking an honest look at oneself and facing the worst parts. Esmae’s struggles are heartbreaking and relatable, and her anger is understandable even when she makes horrific choices and descends further into her fury and darkness.

Most of all, I loved that Esmae is not a static character—she will never be the same after the conclusion of A House of Rage and Sorrow. I can hardly wait to learn how that impacts the rest of her story, coming in September 2020.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Reviews of Other Book(s) in The Celestial Trilogy:

  1. A Spark of White Fire

Read “Steel and Flowers” (prequel short story about Kyra)