WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Serpent & Dove.
Mahurin's sophomore novel was an auto-buy for me, my first in a very long time. If you read my review of Serpent & Dove, you'll know how much I enjoyed the first installment of this trilogy. A few things were hit-and-miss about book 1, but I had hopes that book 2 would see Mahurin really come into her own. In some ways, she did, but this second go-around with Lou and Reid was not quite what I expected.
Blood & Honey has all the dark magic and charm of S&D, with Mahurin's brutal-yet-beautiful magic system taking center stage. In an effort to head off Morgane's schemes, Lou and her cohorts attempt to make allies out of enemies and convene on the Archbishop's funeral in Cesarine for a showdown with the queen of the Dames Blanches.
There were many things I enjoyed about this book. The dialogue, as always, provides top-notch humor that offsets the dark backdrop of our heroes' circumstances. Lou's gradual slide toward the darker side of magic is taken with masterfully understated steps. New characters arise, each painted with a bold brush that imprints them firmly in the reader's mind. Ansel's development from boy to more-or-less man was painfully satisfying. Still, despite these qualities, this book was a bit of a let-down.
The Dames Rouges (blood witches) are deliciously dark, morbid creatures, and getting a glimpse into Coco's past and the schism that divided the two groups of witches had so much potential. Somehow, it still fell flat for me. I was bored for several chapters, feeling like minor characters were being foisted upon me, only to die a few pages later. While I could appreciate the significance Mahurin was trying to impress with those sacrifices, she doesn't give the reader enough time to care about them or to get invested in the particular mystery that is hinted there. It feels like a passing fancy rather than an integral subplot.
Then there's the werewolves. While an interesting part of Reid's past, I don't feel like their inclusion had any purpose except to add variety to the cast. Not much else to say on that front.
Between those two story lines (the blood witches and the werewolves), I can't help but wonder if the pacing would have been better served by picking one arc and sticking to it. Or, alternately, by splitting Lou and Reid up and sending them each on their own separate arc (Lou to the blood witches and Reid to the werewolves) to be reunited in the final act. As it is, the inclusion of both in succession serves to completely invalidate the sense of urgency that is laid out in the beginning of the book, squandering that tension through the seemingly endless time our heroes have to travel from the far north to the far south of the continent. If you don't look at the map, maybe this won't bother you, but I'm a sucker for maps and the one included in B&H makes its timeline feel far-fetched at best.
Another facet of my disappointment was the lack of romance in this second volume. From the very first page, Lou and Reid's marriage slowly degrades throughout this book. Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but their relationship feels suddenly petty and juvenile, easily influenced by the manipulative comments of others (looking at you, Madame Labelle). Reid's guilt and blind rejection of his own magic, along with Lou's crippling trust issues, work in concert to drive a wedge between them. Neither are willing or capable of compromise (or even basic communication), and it becomes grating after the first few hundred pages. I'm pretty sure I yelled at the book once or twice. The romantic maneuverings of the secondary characters are equally juvenile, even if they provide a bit of humorous banter to keep the reader entertained.
In all, this was a decent read. Not great, not terrible, but good enough that I'll be buying the final book in the trilogy when it comes out.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Middle books are tough.