Esmay Rosalyne’s Spoiler-Free Review of Buzzard’s Bowl by John Palladino
Publication date: 1 June 2023
Series: Book 2 in The Tragedy of Cedain
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Rating: 5 stars
*Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Cedain continues to collapse.
Ashmount’s destruction shatters the Magicai while the culprits responsible continue sabotaging the world. All the while, the next season of Buzzard’s Bowl begins and Edelbrock, in his constant fight for survival, desires a vengeance he can only find in the arena.
Seradal and Villic find themselves in the middle of a war between Remeria and the Camel Clans, and may end up on opposing sides, while the threat of Calrym looms over all of them.
At the behest of the woman he loves, Demri finds himself thrown into the Elkavich, a not-so-secret order of Magicai who are intent upon fixing the world.
Ashen, a former urchin rescued by a noble with selfish aspirations, works to dismantle the nobility of Calrym.
Death is assured to all who walk the world, the only unknown is when they will perish.
Review of Buzzard’s Bowl
Palladino is back and better than ever with this second instalment in the Tragedy of Cedain series, and he did not come to play. I mean, with book 1 being such a strong debut, I knew we were going to be in for something good with this series. And yet, I was somehow just not prepared for this absolute masterpiece. The way that this sequel improved upon every single aspect from book 1, which was already freaking brilliant, was just mind-blowing. Second book syndrome? We don’t know her.
Buzzard’s Bowl is easily one of the strongest sequels I have ever read. And just like that, I’ve found my no.1 favourite book of 2023 so far.
I mentioned in my review of book 1 that it felt like a bit of a set-up book, yet I had the feeling that the slower build up would all be worth it once we got to see the bigger picture. And let me tell you friends, the pay-off here was even more satisfying and exciting than I could ever have imagined. The Trials of Ashmount ended with a bang and now we get to explore how our characters are dealing with the fallout of all of those crazy events and revelations. The war that was brewing in book 1 completely explodes here and holy damn, the consequences are brutal.
We mostly return to the familiar faces that survived book 1, but we are also introduced to some compelling new characters that I instantly latched onto. And the way that all of these separate storylines, and even the interludes, seamlessly start to interweave is just SO masterfully done.
Now, I was already really intrigued by the cast of (messed up) characters in book 1, but I didn’t yet have that emotional connection that I tend to look for in my books. However, the development of each character’s personal arc here was phenomenal and somewhere along the way I just became completely invested. Whether we got to see some beautiful character growth or a full-blown corruption arc, everyone’s journey was just so (frustratingly) realistic and believable.
I personally love that these characters are so painfully flawed and human, because their moral complexity is exactly what makes this story so unpredictable and compelling. We also get some very good and authentic neurodivergence, disability and mental illness representation in this story, which I was pleasantly surprised by.
Every single character just has so much emotional depth and they completely jump off the page with their strong voices and unique personalities. Needless to say, this is one of the most memorable casts of characters that I have ever come across. And now I honestly don’t know if I am happy about my emotional investment or not, because literally NO ONE is safe in this story and my feelings were hurt, dammit.
Another thing that was brilliantly built and expanded upon from book 1 was the world building. The scope of this world is very big and the story that’s being told is ambitious and sprawling (like, think ASOIAF-level of big and sprawling), but Palladino proves here that he can handle it. And really damn well, at that.
All the rich cultures and vivid settings really come to life through the eyes of our diverse cast of characters, which made this such an immersive reading experience. Whether we were at court, in a gladiator arena, with a nomadic travelling group, on a bloody battlefield or in just any of the numerous other compelling settings, I was constantly right there along with the characters and I loved that.
But what I maybe enjoyed most about the expansion of the world building here was the way that we got to dive a lot deeper into the history, lore and magic of this world. All the different types and brands of the destructive magic system are on full display and we get to experience first-hand just how high the cost of using some of these powers can be.
I also love how themes of censorship, corruption, religion and the twisting of history over time are woven into the narrative as we learn more about the hidden truths of this magic system. These characters’ world views continue to be shattered in unexpected ways and some of the twists and reveals had my jaw on the floor.
I mean, the old status quo in this world might not have been ideal, but at times you will find yourself wondering if everyone wouldn’t have been better off just living on in blissful ignorance. This book is just nuts in the best way possible.
So yeah, I may or may not have devoured the final 300 pages of this book in one day, and I have zero regrets. The plot is just filled with intrigue on so many levels and the pacing is rock solid all the way through. We really dive deep into the brutality of politics and war, which leads to tons of deadly political scheming, brutal back stabbings and betrayals, bloody battle/war scenes and ruthless sacrifices.
And while the writing is fittingly visceral and bleak for this type of story, it’s also filled with tons of amusing dark humour, so I was truly entertained and gripped the entire way through.
Okay, applause for you if you made it all the way through this absolute gushfest of a review. And now it should probably come as no surprise when I say that I can’t recommend this series highly enough. This story is honestly the perfect mash-up of all the best things from The First Law and ASOIAF, and I honestly prefer this series over both of those two pillars of fantasy. If you like the idea of a sprawling multi-pov grimdark fantasy with brutal political intrigue, deadly magic, painfully realistic characters and tons of crazy twists and turns, then The Tragedy of Cedain series is the perfect fit for you. Trust me, it’s bloody fucking brilliant.