The Bloodstained Shade (Aven Cycle #3)- Cass Morris
Published by Cass Morris
Release Date: January 31, 2023
Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead!
Synopsis: Latona of the Vitelliae, mage of Spirit and Fire, lies still as death. Her fate rests in the hands of her allies, who must redeem her soul from the churning void where Corinna, leader of a banished Discordian cult, has trapped it.
Protected by a cabal of corrupt priests and politicians, Corinna plans her most daring assault yet: a ritual striking at the ancient heart of Aven, with the power to swallow the city in a maw of chaos and strife. Her success would be Aven's doom, and the greatest violence would fall upon the most vulnerable.
In The Bloodstained Shade, Cass Morris saves her devoted fans (and main character Latona) from the cliffhanger ending she left us with in Give Way To Night. But she doesn't make anything easy on her characters, clearly being an author who believes that roasting characters in a fire brings out their strongest qualities. Latona and Vibia remain the two main Aven-centered characters, although I was glad to see sisters Aula and Alhena getting more of a role here as well. Both sisters continue to develop as strong secondary characters, willing to face their fears despite the risks, and I'm hoping for even more from them in the next book, particularly from Alhena and her magic.
We get to see Sempronius, Latona's brother Vitellius, and their allies finish the war in Iberia, and I liked how Morris wrapped that up. enemies became allies, but even among the enemies and the terrible things they were doing, there was a deep humanity to every action. Morris examines how different people handle the gruesomeness of war- this kind of war in particular- in different ways, and can come back sometimes changed for the better, or at least come back thinking differently. Sempronius gets a few shocks along the way and didn't really know what to do with them, or his emotions, or the idea of possibly being vulnerable in any way. I have to admit I rather enjoyed that- suddenly he became a very human character, realizing the mistakes he was making and what he was risking in a way that his confidence had never allowed him to do before. I also have to admit, I'm pretty worried for what Morris is setting him up for in the next book, with a few of the not-very-subtle clues she dropped in this one.
One of the messages I loved in this book was the idea that we are who we make ourselves. Corinna may get to say it best when she chides Latona for trying to tell Corinna's story. "Never try to reduce another woman down to something smaller than she is" Corinna tells Latona. Corinna has refused to allow that to happen to her from the beginning. But it's a fight Latona's had across the whole series, being made smaller than she is and gradually growing out of that- although it is something she still fights with here. One of the reasons enemies fear Latona (and Sempronius) is for trying to step out of their normal roles in society and reach for something bigger. Throughout the book, and the series, is always the question, will we give in to temptation? Will we blame someone else for out actions? Or will we, in the end, accept that we are both the good and the bad of ourselves, and that can make us weak, or incredibly, unbelievably, strong and united.
Full of fast-paced scenes, and excellent writing, with vastly different characters and places woven together into a brilliant and heart-pounding finale. Secondary characters continue to shine and develop, our main characters continue to show strengths and flaws enough to keep them both likable and relatable. Cass Morris' Aven continues to shine as an ancient Rome-inspired world built into something new and different, and I can't wait for the next book in this incredible series.
Bloodstained Shade starts with a very good "previously in Aven" summary for readers who didn't reread the first two books before starting Book 3, but I wouldn't recommend starting Shade without having read From Unseen Fire and Give Way to Night first. This is a series that build from one book to the next.