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Sequels are scary things. This is why I approached reading Mirage by Jenn Reese with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I LOVED Above World (my thoughts) so much. I wanted to love this one. I needed to love it because I haven't loved many books yet this year. It fulfilled all of that yearning plus some.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The desert is no place for ocean-dwelling Kampii like Aluna and Hoku, especially now that Aluna has secretly started growing her tail. But the maniacal Karl Strand is out to conquer the Above World, and the horselike Equians are next on his list. Aluna, Hoku, and their friends — winged Calli and Equian exile Dash — race to the desert city of Mirage, intent on warning the Equians. When they arrive, Strand’s clone, Scorch, has gotten there first. Now the Equian leader has vowed to take all his people to war as part of Strand’s army. Any herd that refuses to join him by the time of the desert-wide competition known as the Thunder Trials will be destroyed. To have any chance of defeating Scorch and convincing the Equians to switch sides, the four friends must find a way to win the Trials. The challenge seems impossible. But if they fail, the desert — and possibly all of the Above World — will be lost to Karl Strand forever. 

Aluna, Hoku, Dash, and Calli-they all have pieces of my heart. These are some truly wonderful characters and Reese took them and grew them in this second volume. Aluna learned so much from her first journey and it is wonderful to see her apply those lessons in this book. She proceeds with more caution and listens more carefully. She still makes some mistakes, but I love that her character has not stagnated and is moving with the story. We learn about Dash and his past in this book and what I discovered only made me love him more. His nobility, honor, and loyalty are great attributes and his charming ways only add to that. It was interesting to watch Calli-still torn between what she knows she must become and what she wants to do. She's so caring and diplomatic, and yet there are times when I'm not as sure of her as I am of the others. Not unsure of her loyalty, but what she'll choose to do with it. It keeps her from being too perfect. And Hoku. GAH! His quiet heroism in this book catapulted him past Dash as my favorite I think. I love how he refuses to back down from his ideals and tries to figure out ways to make them work in the world he lives in. It also has me very afraid for his continued safety. I always say I love it when authors aren't afraid to hurt even their main characters and Reese certainly isn't. It doesn't stop me from not wanting her to. 

The friendship these four share is my favorite element of this trilogy. They met and began it in the first book. This book sees it challenged and grow in amazing ways. It is clear too that they are all learning from each other and becoming better people because of each other. There are scenes that actually had me tearing up-and that is not an easy thing to make me do. One particular scene between Dash and Aluna had me actually shed a tear. I love how Reese uses their friendship and interactions to reveal more of their characters too.

In addition to our four intrepid heroes there are a host of new and amazing characters added here. I loved Tal, Rollin, and  Nathif especially.

The world building continues to be impressive. In this volume the setting switches to the desert. Here two different types of people dwell-Dash's Equians and the Serpenti (half snake people-and let me say that whole concept is just awesome by itself). The history of these groups is fraught and rich with detail and these were wonderfully incorporated into the fast moving plot. While Karl Strand and his evil plans shadow this book, the story here is less about confronting a nemesis than it is about learning to grow and change. The story focuses on the desert peoples and the workings of their traditions and politics. There is again a lot of food for thought here on honoring tradition and history while not clinging to it to your own detriment. This fits well with the themes of hope, unity, and strength in community that continue into this story from the first. The way Reese is able to do all of this in a plot that never once drags or even slows down is impressive. I also appreciate how she knows how to end a book. Yes, there is more and they are not done with their struggles, but this book ends with a sense of completion. I still really want the next volume while at the same time don't have cliffhanger rage. 

Mirage gave me an adrenaline rush and book hangover like I haven't had in quite some time. I love books that can do that to me and am eagerly awaiting the third and final installment of the trilogy.

I received this most joyfully and gratefully from Candlewick via NetGalley. Mirage is available for purchase today, March 12. (I have an 8 year old eagerly awaiting our copy's arrival. She is quite annoyed I already got to read it.)


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