(I received an ARC of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
This book did something other books seldom do: eliciting feelings in me.
You see, I'm a cold-hearted person. Not as in cruel and mean, but as in, someone who very seldom cries, who's seldom moved by emotional scenes, and so on. The few things that make me reach such a state aren't the usual kind of triggers; I don't shed tears over characters dying, romantic scenes, happy-ever-after moments. In fact, it's so random I couldn't even explain what may or may not trigger a reaction, whatever reaction, in me.
Meda's voice does. I don't know how, I don't know why. Perhaps it's her acceptance that she's bad, that something in her is utterly rotten (she's half-demon, after all). Perhaps it's the fact she doesn't delude herself when it comes to being liked by others, or to the guy she may or may not fall in love with. Perhaps it's how she feels she tries hard, but realises in the end that she should also have tried to understand others. She's not perfect, she knows it, she's not trying to be—just being "good enough" would already be a great step, but can someone who needs to ear souls ever be "good enough"? Her eating the souls of bad guys only could seem a rationalisation... or simply a fact: when the only other solution is starving yourself, how many of us would actually be "good enough" to do that? So she goes after bad guys—psychopathic killers, child molesters—and eat their souls, because it's the least of two evils, yet while she jokes about being a super heroine, going about vigilante business, she still acknowledges that she's part monster, and will always be.
She's not perfect. She makes mistakes. She misunderstands people, people misunderstand her. But she learns. She accepts facts in the end, seeing them for what they were, for something she failed to notice. She owns up to her mistakes, tries to correct them, takes responsibility for her actions. And she's also angry and frustrated, so much that I could feel her anger poring through the pages. I especially liked that contrary to a lot of teens in YA fiction, her reasons were both selfish (it was about "me, me, me" at first, in that she saw things from her side of the barrier only) and understandable: the bullying, people automatically disliking her at school because she's a half-demon, the adults seemingly turning a blind eye on it, humiliating punishments that only furthered the bullying... She was under scrutiny because of her nature, but it felt as if she was expected to do better than any other "good" person in the world, while being set up for failure. (I don't know, but if someone's half-demon, expecting them to be Mother Teresa is kind of asking for them to fail, isn't it?) Meda was self-centered and didn't understand Jo's attempts at warning her, at protecting her; however, I think a lot of people would've felt the same in her situation. And later, when she discovers the true reasons behind what happened, she accepts them, accepts that she has to understand.
Meda's friendship with Jo: another beautiful thing in this story. They both have their own very special personalities, they've been through fire together, they don't entirely trust each other, and paradoxically, the latter grounds their relationship into something deeper, stronger, because it holds one important promise: the day real trust is born, is the day their friendship knows no bounds. In the meantime, they're kidn of circling each other, watching each other. It's not a girly kind of friendship. They don't bond over boys, over one common interest that may or may not last. But it runs deep, to the point of self-sacrifice... not only on Jo's part (knowing her character, that must've been one hard thing to do for Jo, by the way).
And when a half-demon is led to self-sacrifice, this also tells you something about her, about whether her nature binds her so much, whether Armand is right in telling her Hell is the only place for her... or not. Meda knowing she's a monster, and not refuting it, Meda teetering on the brink of that one important decision (join the demons or remain faithful to the Crusaders, even though they want her dead), are, in my opinion, what could make her achieve her own "goodness": not a saintly one, but one that defies her origins.
Love interest: there is one, but not too much. Here, we don't go through the "redeem the bad boy" trope, or starry-eyed love. While Meda and Armand are clearly attracted to each other, they also know that sooner or later, they may stand on different sides. Meda is aware she may have to kill him someday; indeed, no delusions here, and no glorious promises of Love Eternal either. They both hang out together for their own selfish reasons, they both say it openly, they both accept it in each other. It's a really nice break from the usual teen romance I see in YA books nowadays.
Also, they kill. They go through with their murders, they don't bail out at the last moment. Another nice break from all the "assassins who fail to kill" stories.
The Crusaders: horrible in many ways, justified in others. What they did to Meda, refusing to give her a say when it was time to test one specific kind of magic on her, was shocking; however, when Meda had a choice, the person who seemed so bad, so cruel at first turned out to be pretty decent—and he wasn't the only one. It's never sp black and white with them as you think it is.
The one qualm I have with this book is that it felt slow in the beginning, especially compared to the first novel in the series. Meda's voice and what I could sense between the lines prevented this from being too much of a problem, but I was still glad when the pace picked up.