ARC received for reading & review.
For all the fisticuffs, this one felt more of a slow burn than the previous two and if anything, it surpassed the earlier books with an even greating grouping of dysfunctional heroes/spirits.
The dynamic worked incredibly well, in what seemed at times to be a geriatric rendition of Riyira with double helping of grumpy, supernatural, a cute spirit (weapon) and something else to generate friction, until a later addition of royalty. The relationships start with a fight and evolve into much more as the backstory is trickled in to fill them out. Instead of shifts, you have Kimono's and pipes as a running joke, that become very touching by the end.
Fair to say the vibe is a disaster at the start, ramps through continual calamity and sets boths sides up for a fight to avoid a cataclysm. Haruto and Guang, Yanmei and Kira have a great feel and bounce well off each other in training, conflict and growing respect, particularly when their stories come to light. The Prince I could take or leave, I can see the reason for the addition with the background civil war, and the need for his experiences, at key points, but he isn't doing much for me. The fact the core characters are deliberately limiting themselves, and running to a deadline before the events of the core conflict adds extra tension and some hilarity (sorry).
There's little to fault with the story. The middle third could be pacier, but it is cramming a lot in, before the situation unravels into the conclusion. I twigged where the ending might be going, but was slightly out with the order of events, and the pair of twists at the end were very neat. The relationships in the face of disaster are evocative and emotive and cleverly put together. Haruto has a Cohen vibe, but the way he and Guang mesh with Kira is especially well formed. By the end she is arguably stealing the show, which is pretty nifty as everything is to play for.
Well put together, an interesting dynamic and story, but overall I personally prefer the earlier two books, but I'm looking forward to future books and when this one comes to audio. Definitely a preorder.