Another day, another disappointing sequel.
Six weeks after the end of Grim Lovelies, Anouk is stuck in a Paris house with the surviving Goblins, Viggo, and Little Beau the dog. That is, until a certain Prince comes knocking on her door with a proposition of marriage and a way to get her friends back. The Prince needs a magical being to help him defeat the Coven of Oxford, who have taken over England, and Anouk needs someone in her corner in her quest to become a witch. Of course, though, where there’s magic, chaos will ensue.
As always, what I didn’t like first.
There was WAY TOO MUCH happening all the time, and somehow nothing happening at all? I’ve never read a book that had a super neat magic system that was boring the hell out of me. I almost fell asleep twice reading this book, and I read the most in the morning! I‘m so tired of books trying to force four or five different plots between their covers when the author very clearly should’ve stuck to one. Grim Lovelies worked because there was one goal: stay human. There were subplots, of course (the Goblins, getting the spell, solving Vittora’s murder), but it all existed within the one plot of the beasties needing to stay human. Here, we have: Anouk and Rennar, Anouk trying to become a witch, the Noirceur, the Coven of Oxford, whatever’s up with the Snow Children, the Royals and their cattiness, the Goblins and their quest, etc. There’s so much happening, and you’d think that would be enough to be entertaining, but nope. Since there’s a lot going on, all the time, sacrifices in cohesion were made, so it’s a lot of “we went here and did this and talked about this and one time Luc told this story” and not any of what made the first book so lovely. There’s also no stakes whatsoever. Everything that they plan goes right up until they need to conveniently get rid of a character. It’s not like in the first one, where their plans keep going awry, but more their plans go smoothly until a plot convenient point.
The time limit is just not enough, especially when you implement it into the last half of the book. The Noirceur is this big bad that is terribly sprinkled around and then SUDDENLY the beasties are having visions (THAT’S new, and definitely not something you should be introducing with 50 pages left) and they have to defeat the evil smoke and the plagues! Oh, the plagues! Whatever. It didn’t seem like a super pressing problem, mostly because time sped up and slowed down with however Shepherd wanted it to. The hard deadline was midnight but you, the reader, have NO IDEA how close it is to midnight for the entire time. It’s just dark and Anouk is flirting with Rennar and Beau and this and this and this that have nothing to do with what’s supposed to be happening. It’s very annoying.
Speaking of the characters, Grim Lovelies had an excellent way of making the characters endearing, even though you didn’t know a whole lot about them. In Midnight Beauties, Shepherd did a great job of making you like or dislike the other girls trying to be witches, but of course that all went up in smoke (bu-dum-tss), and then she seemed to give up. There were lots of names and lots of descriptions, but simply no heart. Even Luc, who we heard all about last book, gets almost no personality beyond the fact that he kisses boys and girls and wears glasses. Great. Fantastic. That, and characters just kind of…appear and disappear at random. They’ll make a grand entrance, provide nothing to forward the plot, and then leave. Alternatively, though, I guess there is always the option to Game of Thrones, last season, Danearys Targaryean someone like Shepherd did to Rennar. There was nothing leading up to those last 10 pages and then BAM! GENOCIDAL MEGALOMANIAC! Where did that come from? It didn’t feel genuine, it just felt like a loose end that Shepherd forgot to tie, and naturally she did it by effectively killing the character. Hey, it worked with Viggo, didn’t it? No. No actually, it didn’t work there either. It’s lazy. If you have so much going on that you kill your character instead of resolving plot points, maybe cut down on whatever the fuck you’re going on about.
Petra and December just kind of vanish. There’s no resolution there, and Anouk worries that Petra will turn into the other witches they’ve known as she gets older, but that’s about it. Sooooo was she just there for the diversity points? The casually transphobic comments? Was December just there because Shepherd killed Tenpenny and needed someone to replace him? Comedic relief? Two characters that could’ve been so good, and yet -
Oh and the whitewashing! Luc is supposed to be a black guy, right? But in the end, when he joins the Snow Children, they’re all pale white with black eyes. I get it, but you had to do it to your one black male character? Come on.
And speaking of Luc dying, Anouk is supposed to be smart, but she’s such a dumb main character. It’s frustrating when I know what’s going to happen chapters before Anouk figures it out. It means the reveal is a let down. The biggest? The build up to Petra‘s moniker reveal. The Ash Witch? Well…duh. Of course. I could have told you that when she walked through the coals. I don’t know why it was this Big Ole Secret.
The ending was so abrupt. Maybe I feel that way because of all the plot bullshittery happening, but the book just kinda…ended. I was hoping for a sweet chapter of domesticity afterwards with all the surviving friends, but all I got was more yadda yadda.
This book was 90% tell and 10% show. Anouk went here and remembered that time Cricket taught her a spell (WHEN? Last book when y’all were running for your lives??) or something Beau told her. There’s multiple instances where a character will say something and another one makes a comment about how, “oh they used to do that when” and I can’t bring myself to care, because I never got the when. I’m being told by Anouk that this happened, so I guess this happened. Whatever, it’s lazy writing, and it’s highly annoying.
There wasn’t a lot I did like.
Luc is bisexual, or pan, but regardless he’s the book’s representative of my side of the LGBT spectrum and I appreciate that. Petra must be protected from all the unnecessary transphobia Shepherd put her through in this book. Hunter Black deserved justice, and Viggo’s hypersexual fixation on Cricket easily could’ve been turned into him realizing he was DEEP in the closet and give us a happy queer ending. Instead, though: Viggo dies, Hunter Black is big sad, Luc is kinda dead? and who the fuck knows what happened to Petra. But Anouk and Beau get to have lots of boring heterosexual kissing! And a boring ending! 🙄 Bleh. The only diverse character to get a happy ending is Cricket because she no longer has to deal with Viggo’s harassment (I didn’t forget, Shepherd, no matter what arc you tried to give him).
I gave this book a 2.5/5 because it was a quick read and I was really excited about Luc’s sexuality for representative reasons, but it wasn’t a good book. While I may recommend Grim Lovelies, methinks this is a Divergent situation where I tell people to make up their own ending once the first one is over.
Trigger warnings: animal cruelty, animal death, blood, death, fire/fire injury, gaslighting, genocide, gore, grief, injury/injury detail, murder, self harm, suicide, transphobia, violence, war, ableism