A review by debchan
A War of Swallowed Stars by Sangu Mandanna


the way i started hating this series and gave the first book 2 stars... to being way more interested in the second book with 4 stars (plus loving the short story prequel!!)

and now? this book is one of the best ones i've read this year.

the plot came full circle and i absolutely love when books do that bc it makes the reading experience much more satisfying. this picks up right after the last book ended and it took us down some interesting pathways. i also enjoyed reading from different characters' POVs. and speaking of, these characters were *chef's kiss*

esmae rey: our queen. she really be out there excelling at life in the most stupidest ways. esmae has had to fight her whole life to get the things she wants and she is ferocious, unrelenting, and extremely determined to get that. she literally throws herself at the problem to solve it with force. when that doesn't work? she uses her big brain to solve problems and come up with a solution that doesn't usually depend on the hate that usually fuels her. she's a character that loves her friends, laughs with them, fights with them, but most importantly, fights for them. while she has a fierce rage that she must keep in check, she also has incredible compassion and a love for her people and even for her enemies. i can't believe i hated esmae in book 1 because i thought she was boring and naive. while that may have been true in book 1, it was also totally understandable. in the rest of the series, though, she is hardened and learns from her mistakes (sometimes). what an amazing main character to read about!

max rey: i wanted to do alexi first but i'll do a short one for max. the character reveal in book 2 was shocking. in this book, it takes that reveal to the next level. he's mostly a sweet guy, someone who supports esmae in all her crazy endeavors, but when push comes to shove, max pulled out his big guns to do whatever it takes for esmae. i'm still not crazy about the whole cousin thing (even if he's adopted I KNOW) but i think i can get past it since esmae/max scream power couple and they're actually one of the best romance stories i've read.
Spoiler not at how he was just brought back to life? interesting move, but it makes sense and i don't really mind it, so at least i'm happy that esmae is happy.

alexi rey: i don't know what to say about him. he really did that. so i loved alexi in book 1 because who doesn't love a golden-boy-turned-villain. and then we read book 2 and we see that maybe he's just as confused and lost as esmae. he makes the same constant mistake because his heart falls time and time again for those he trusts. we get a glimpse that maybe the facade is cracking and maybe he just wants to live peacefully with his family (and boyfriend? not sure what kirrin is). in book 3, though, he cracks. like a geode, he reveals all those interesting and bright aspects of his life and personality. unfortunately, there isn't much to say without spoilers so
Spoiler when he said MAYBE I DON'T WANT TO LIVE EITHER. i almost screeched. although, manz really out here trying not to blame himself for any of these horrible things going on. esmae and alex had a pretty big chunk of responsibility for these events. when esmae and alex saw each other as children, man i almost lost it then. having them resolve their issues was one of my favorite things about the ending. i love how amba/kirrin/esmae/alex have game night together
. my favorite character of the series and i wish we got a POV for him. maybe a short story? pls.

tatiana: this ship! so capable, so powerful. i love her human characteristics even if she is a machine. she manages to hold such love for her friends and that makes me want to give her a hug. her ending was deserved.

amba: i had to add her because of what she did at the end of book 2. her sacrifice, her constant love for esmae? we loved it. she was the mother esmae never had.

kirrin: blue boy. just like alex, he messed up a lot. but he did it for love and i am glad that
Spoilerhe can live with alex for the rest of his life. although, i'm not sure what he's gonna do when alexi rey dies. like that's gonna be devastating

sybilla and radha: these two!! can we also appreciate these names are so pretty. their competency was unmatched, honestly just give us a short story about their daily lives because it is so satisfying. also the way their relationship developed was amazing. radha is the sweetest ever and she may feel guilty about certain things, but honestly she really just loves too hard and tries her hardest. sybilla is a prickly cactus who is terrifying and yet amazing at the same time. she does not hesitate to strike anyone down to fight for her friends and it shows because i adored her friendship with esmae.
Spoilerwhen sybilla, tired and beaten down, turns to esmae and says, "i love you, esmae rey." i think the literary world felt that.

kyra and leila: unpopular opinion but i loved these two as well. we have a powerful queen who struggled to find her place. she was so strong, considering the background we got from her short story as well. no matter what, she stayed constant and unafraid to do what was necessary to get what she wanted. she may not be the best mother, but she definitely was an amazing character, queen, and example of what we all fear and love at the same time. plus leila? this woman? even more terrifying. she was a war general, the most trusted friend of kyra and also we have an amazing background for her and kyra as well. she wasn't incredibly huge, but i loved every role she had. i would love so many more kyra/leila interactions. honestly i feel as if they could get things done (especially if there were no children getting in the way).

i adored every other character as well: rickhard, bear, rada, guinne/elvar etc. what i really loved about this plot, though, was the fact that it was undeniably human. grievances of many years ago and wrongdoings trickled down through generations until it was a full-out galactic war between family members, even twins. there were so many layers of trickery and deceit, yet what shined throughout this whole series was forgiveness, love, and hope. i won't say too much more on that, but just know that the ending was everything i needed. i really enjoyed reading this series and i may change my rating for book 1 or i could be completely honest about how it made me feel upon first read.

anyways, incredible series with a huge cast of real and dynamic characters, a plot that spans generations and deals with the ugly and beautiful side of humanity, and some of the most interesting (but not best, unfortunately) storytelling i've ever read.