The Merciless Ones is the sequel to Namina Forna’s enthralling fantasy novel The Gilded Ones, which was an instant New York Times and U.K. bestseller. The sequel begins six months after Deka freed the goddesses of Otera and discovered her mother’s true identity. But now, war is waging across the ancient kingdom of Otera as tensions are rising between the goddesses and a mysterious merciless power that Deka must stop. All the while, the goddesses appear to be hiding something, and Deka’s magical gifts keep changing.
Unfortunately, The Merciless Ones falls a little flat compared to its predecessor, The Gilded Ones. Deka feels rather disconnected from her peers in this book as a result of what her character has become. She spends much of the novel telepathically communicating with the gods alone. Consequently, the sense of sisterhood, which was so powerful and beautiful to see in the first novel, feels destroyed. Moreover, with all the focus on arcane objects and divine gifts, Deka is lost in her head for the majority of the novel. This stunted the growth of the flourishing relationships we saw in The Gilded Ones. The Merciless Ones felt as though its purpose was quite simply to bridge the gap between The Gilded Ones and the upcoming finale to the series.
However, it was delightful to see that Forna continues to use fantasy to tackle the issue of gender in this novel. Here Forna clearly illustrates how gender roles and stereotypes are merely social constructions put in place to oppress one group of the population. On a similar note, Forna also includes many characters of marginalised identities in The Merciless Ones, which was great to see. Here we have queer, non-binary and trans characters. The inclusion of these characters allows Forna to delve further into gender issues and society’s treatment of those who do not fit their constructed gender norms.
Nonetheless, it was enjoyable to read about our fierce female protagonist Deka again. Hopefully, we will see a return of much of the magic from the first book in the series finale.