The Quicksilver Court
by Melissa Caruso
559pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.26/5

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Note: Although I tried to keep this review relatively spoiler free for both books in this series, it does mention some of the characters the protagonist remains friendly with after the first book. Since there is some uncertainty about who can be trusted in that one, you may prefer to read my review of The Obsidian Tower.

I’ve been a fan of Melissa Caruso’s work since reading her debut trilogy, Swords and Fire (The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, The Unbound Empire). These books were immensely entertaining with great dialogue (and the occasional dramatic party), and though there are familiar elements, there were elements that made it feel fresh. The setting was one such highlight: it showed how the protagonist’s nation prevented mages from taking over everything and contrasted this with a neighboring country containing several domains, each of which was managed by a powerful Witch Lord.

So of course, I was thrilled to learn that Melissa Caruso’s next series, Rooks and Ruin, followed a Witch Lord’s granddaughter in the same world about 150 years later. And though it took a little while to fully hook me, I also ended up loving the first book in the series, The Obsidian Tower. Its mysteries and constantly escalating stakes had me riveted, and I had the hardest time putting it down during the last 80%.

In fact, “nearly impossible to put down” was my experience with all of Melissa Caruso’s books, but though I enjoyed it, The Quicksilver Court didn’t quite get there.

Don’t get me wrong: The Quicksilver Court is still a very good book. Even if it didn’t make it on to my 2021 favorites list, I think it’s better than most of the books I read or sampled last year with fun dialogue, lots of revelations, and some great moments—even a disastrous party. I wasn’t tempted to leave it unfinished or anything drastic like that, and I definitely want to finish the series. It just took me by surprise that it didn’t hit the same high bar of “unusually absorbing” as the author’s other books, especially since there was a lot to enjoy about it.

The Obsidian Tower introduced Ryx, Warden of her Witch Lord grandmother’s castle—to the great chagrin of most of her relatives, who don’t consider her worthy because of her unusual magic that kills all she touches. For the last four thousand years, her family has guarded the castle’s mysterious Black Tower, passing down the knowledge that the Door must remain closed. But it was briefly open early in the novel when another Witch Lord’s diplomat meddled with it, and to make matters worse, she was killed by Ryx’s magic when the Warden tried to stop her from opening the Door. Aided by a team of magical experts, Ryx studied the Door and unearthed more of its mysteries—all while dealing with a diplomatic mission gone awry, family drama galore, and a murderer on the loose in the castle.

At the start of The Quicksilver Court, Ryx is aware of just how terrible what came into the world through the Door could be for everyone. She’s also aware that the Zenith Society has no qualms about using this to their advantage regardless of the consequences, so she is horrified to learn they have stolen a weapon that could destroy all life in a Witch Lord’s domain. When they hear the organization was last seen heading toward the Summer Palace, Ryx and her new friends travel there to try to uncover their plans. But they end up trapped in the palace, surrounded by foes old and new, haunted by eerie occurrences—and increasingly disturbed by the queen and her new adviser’s odd behavior.

Like the previous book in the series, this is primarily set in one location, but I thought this worked better in the first book. The ancient castle Gloamingard had history and character with its mysterious Black Tower and the various additions Witch Lords had made through the ages—showcasing styles like a fondness for bone décor—and a special path just for Ryx to try to prevent people from accidentally stumbling into her and dying. Though fitting given the differences between Witch Lords and the other nation (or really, the Witch Lords and just about anyone else), the Summer Palace was closer to standard-issue royal housing. It was a place of beauty, and though the taste for illusion made it more unique than most, it didn’t have the same sort of individuality that Gloamingard had.

However, my preference for the first book’s main setting is not just due to the castles themselves. The diplomatic mission that kicked off the main plot involved more exploration of various people’s agendas and motivations, and I found it more intense than being trapped in the Summer Palace since it wasn’t always clear which visitors were friends and which were running around committing murder. Most of all, everything that happened in Gloamingard was deeply personal to Ryx: it was her home and her responsibility as the castle’s Warden, and the diplomatic mission that went so horribly wrong was also her project.

Although the goal of preventing someone from destroying all life in a Witch Lord’s domain certainly meant a lot to Ryx, a lot of the conflict in The Quicksilver Court didn’t seem as intensely personal to her. There are revelations that are a rather big deal to her that I can’t discuss without huge spoilers, but the magical experts of the Rookery are the ones who have history with the Zenith Society. It’s their pasts and traumas that are explored through the experience of being trapped in a palace with them, and I didn’t find that especially compelling because I don’t find those characters especially compelling.

When I mentioned that some characters seemed to fit too neatly into certain boxes in my review of The Obsidian Tower, I was mostly referring to the four from the Rookery. And though they are fleshed out a bit more in this installment, they still seem more like archetypes than characters to me: the leader, the compassionate one who looks out for everyone else, the awkward scholar, the swordswoman who wants to stab first and ask questions later. Because of that, I just don’t care all that much when they’re in danger or at odds with each other. I like them well enough and am a little fond of the latter two, but I don’t have particularly strong feelings about what happens to them beyond how it would affect Ryx. She’s never really had friends before since she had to social distance for her entire life, and the first time she wanted to court someone as a teenager, her grandmother had the other girl sent away because of Ryx’s deadly magic.

Although I don’t think any of the characters in Rooks in Ruin are quite as vibrant as some of those from Swords and Fire, I do like Ryx with her fierce loyalty to those she cares about and desire to do what’s right. Her narrative voice tinged with humor and observations on the absurdity of many of her situations is great, and I did enjoy every interaction she had with her grandmother and the foxlike chimera Whisper (who actually does have a good reason for being one of those characters who makes cryptic statements all the time instead of being direct about what he knows).

I also enjoyed her potential romance with Severin, a Witch Lord’s heir who can communicate with animals and travels to the palace with Ryx and the Rookery. Their interactions were a little more fun in the previous book when Ryx wasn’t sure what to think of him, but I still enjoyed their relationship and seeing how they gravitate toward each other. They have some shared perspective as mage-marked people from Witch Lord families, and they’re also both outsiders who never really learned how to be good at people and often feel like they’re out of their element with their traveling companions. (And what can I say, I have a soft spot for characters who plot dastardly deeds with cats, as Severin does.)

Though I didn’t find The Quicksilver Court to be as much of a page-turner as the previous book in the trilogy due to the some of the character work, this series continues to be an entertaining fantasy adventure with delightful dialogue and a fun narrative style. I am looking forward to finishing the story in The Ivory Tomb, coming later this year—especially since I got the impression it will likely have more of what I loved about the previous book.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Quicksilver Court

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy:

  1. The Obsidian Tower