The story begins a few days after The Book of Dead Days ends. Valerian is dead, and Boy and Willow have been fending for themselves in The Yellow House. Together, they are content, but this isn’t to last. Kepler, Valerian’s once-friend then enemy, sends Willow to an orphanage whilst he takes Boy back to his own home to become his assistant.
However, when Boy is sent back to The Yellow House to retrieve an item for Kepler, he is captured by the Imperial Guard. Everything that belonged to Valerian is to be sent to the Palace, and that includes his assistant. Incarcerated in the Emperor’s dungeons, Boy is soon thrown into a world where finery and opulence are everywhere, but this gilding is hiding much. Danger and madness are an even greater presence here than outside the palace walls.
Will Willow find out what has become of Boy? Will Boy manage to escape from the confines of the palace? And will The Phantom, which is still killing without warning, ever be caught?
I wanted to enjoy this book as much as the first, but for some elusive reason I did not. Perhaps the character of Valerian in The Book of Dead Days was a more gripping evil character than I found either Kepler or Maxim to be. Or it could have been the pace was slower and the narrative less dark and gothic in nature.
However, I was happy to continue reading about Willow and Boy, the plans they had for the future and the scrapes they found themselves in and got themselves out of.
Although this series of books is aimed at a young adult audience, I found this instalment much more so than the first, which, as an adult reading it clouded my judgement a little, but I can imagine that it would still appeal to younger readers.