Score: 89/100 (8.9 out of 10)
Gilraen Returns: Doom of the Adjudicars I is the fourth book in the Jaralii Chronicles and the first book in the Doom of the Adjudicars extended series by Dr. Joanne Reid. It continues the story that began in the Gilraen and the Prophecy trilogy. Gilraen Returns is arguably the best looking of the books so far, all the way from its hyper-realistic but darker cover to its solid writing and formatting. All of these are a welcomed improvement from the earlier books in the series, particularly the first. The author's writing just seems to get better with each book, and whatever help she had with editing and formatting really paid off!
This book, for better and for worse, is very... pleasant. It's arguably too pleasant. This is the most peaceful, pleasant book in the series that suddenly features an ultra-violent moment, then goes back to being peaceful and pleasant. If you really liked Gilraen and William from the previous books and just couldn't wait for them to be reunited and happy together, then this is the book for you.
What continues to be great about this series is the world-building. The Gilraen and the Prophecy trilogy was awarded the “Best World-Building” moniker for a reason last season. Dr. Reid has a very broad brush and a very wide scope of what she wants her world to be like. Everything from the economics to the food and the wildlife of the world are put to page and greatly detailed. This just seems like a beautiful and fun world to live in even with the looming threat of the villainous Adjudicars.
Something that unfortunately continues to be problematic with these books are the characters and the plot. If you thought Gilraen was a bit annoying and a Mary Sue in the first three books, then she's going to come across as insufferable in this book. If you thought William was a borderline-useless damsel in distress in the previous installments, then you're going to rage when he lifts 500 pounds easily yet continues to do little else other than be hot and complain to Gilraen when the going gets tough.
William, who showed signs of having a temper and being irritable in the past, seems to let it show more often in this book. He's a bit of a pessimist and a worrywart. Now, to be fair, he's king now and it was thrust upon him by circumstance. He also lost another great love in his life in the form of his brother and has been separated from his girlfriend for months, so you can kinda understand why he's a more negative character now. It happens in real life too. People lose their smiles.
Gilraen is definitely a decent person in terms of not becoming a tyrannical, genocidal queen with the amount of magical and political power she wields. Her main problem in this book and throughout the series is that she's very self-centered, self-righteous, and egotistical. She is almost verging on Empress Theresa-levels of "look how good and great I am." She seemingly can't do a good or exciting thing without having to announce it to the world, almost like Empress Theresa in her book, or every social media diva. At this point, they probably think Our Dear Supreme Leader Gilraen hit ten consecutive holes-in-one, bowled and pitched a perfect game, and won a spelling bee in the same day. Heck, the whole kingdom needs to know whenever she "mates." You heard that right. It's a matter of the state that everyone knows that there's no future without Gilraen's elven ovaries.
She spends pages upon pages pondering how to dress in the best clothes, wear most elegant armor, and have the best crown made for herself. Now, that's not entirely unprecedented. We can understand it. Heck, how many RPG players and gamers spend hours upon hours customizing their characters just so they look cool or at least stand out on the map? If anything, it shows that Dr. Reid understands RPGs and gamers. Also, how many of us shower, wear makeup, comb our hairs, brush our teeth, and spend money on new clothes just to feel and look good? To be fair, what Gilraen is doing is not entirely unrealistic, especially for a person with her status. Gilraen states that the reason she wants to look her best and wants everyone in her court to look their best too is because she believes it will improve their outlook and performance. That's fair. That's why uniforms exist. That's why suits and ties exist. That's why people wear hats and do their hair. You could argue that Gilraen is just a bridezilla trying on different dresses.
It's just that it's so obvious that Gilraen is trying to show off her greatness that makes it cloying. It's also that the story and plot grind to a halt while she's doing this, obsessing over every curve and gem in her crown. And that's another problem: the story and plot have ground to a halt. This book could just as easily be called “Gilraen and Peacetime” or “Jaralii in Peacetime” because this book is incredibly peaceful and borderline uneventful. Yes, there's a huge event that happens, but that was a foregone conclusion. The writing was on the wall since book one. Keep in mind, book three of Gilraen and the Prophecy featured the discovery of a mass genocide of elves, their decomposed bodies strewn all over—unmourned and unburied. It was terrifying, sobering, tragic, and sad. And we all knew that some of the culprits were still out there. However, there is no sense of urgency from anyone in Gilraen Returns. Yes, we are repeatedly reminded, usually in passing that the Adjudicars are still out there corrupting other continents and people in the world. But it's so in the background 99% of the time that we really don't feel the stakes like we did in the last book.
Now, some of the “bad” things about this book can be considered fun or amusing depending on how you look at them. Look, we all go shopping, and some of us love shopping. It's fun. It's fun to try new clothes and accessorize, and that's what Gilraen is doing. Also, the kingdom's new rubber industry and bicycle manufacturing take up a good portion of this book. There's a lot of talk about economics in regard to the rubber and about how the bicycles can be used for both transportation and war. This book could just as easily have been called “Gilraen and the Coming Bicycle Blitzkrieg!” That's right, Gilraen is preparing to go Imperial-Japan-in-Malaysia on her enemies, you know, like a good girl?
It can be really amusing to see this new technology introduced to King William and the citizens of Jaralii. It reminds us of “A Kid in King Arthur's Court” in which the protagonist from the future shares roller skates with the princess who fights to keep her balance and get used to them. That pretty much happens with Gilraen and William here, and it's quite cute. It just seems to overstay its welcome, you know like when you spray a good perfume a few times and it smells great, but then starts smelling terrible after 20 sprays. Everyone holds their breath and tries not to say much when passing by. You know how it is.
What's really strange about all of this is that in the middle of all of this peace—with all its shopping, gossiping, bike-riding, and frolicking in the fields picking flowers and planting rubber plants—we get a scene in which an absolutely grotesque event is described. A massacre has occurred and some family has been flayed, mutilated, and their land set ablaze by the Adjudicars and their collaborators. This should really be horrifying and tragic, but instead just does not match tonally with 99% of this book. Another thing is, either we never got to know these victims or they were so forgettable in the previous books that we forgot about them. The tragedy just doesn't hit the way that it really should. It's just something that happens. It's like that scene in that Attila mini-series in which the village people are having their throats slit one after the other—yeah, it sucks and we wished it wasn't happening, but we have no emotional connection to these victims whatsoever. At least we cared about Rue, and we kinda cared about Richard. When something bad happened to Rue or Richard, we cared a little (or a lot) because we knew who these guys were and we knew how them suffering or dying would affect the other characters.
The other thing beside the world-building and improved writing that we loved is that we got to see Miss Puss, Tom, and the other giant blue cats again. We've always had a soft spot for them, and they never cease being amusing. Gilraen even humorously warns some people that if they mess with the cats, they'll likely be eaten by them or thrown around like a ball of yarn. Apparently these things grow to be the size of houses or dinosaurs, and you can ride them! Can you imagine if your rascal house cat was 100+ times bigger and just as much of a rascal?
Oh, before we forget, there's another great thing in this book: the mystery of the haunted room. There's this part of the palace that was once frequented by the deceased queen that is hella haunted. The piano in the room plays on its own. A portal can be opened that takes you to another dimension. The creepiness, mystery, and intrigue surrounding this room makes for some of the best moments in the whole series. We're not going to spoil it for you.
Gilraen Returns is a good book with some notable improvements. If anything, it just leaves us wanting and desiring. We want to see and read about Gilraen & William fighting and struggling in battle, not arguing about what to wear to their ceremony or how much the cost of rubber will increase on the Jaralii stock market. We want to see our heroes in direct conflict with the villainous Adjudicars. These protagonists and villains should have blood feuds against each other at this point. They were literally at each others throats and killing each others comrades/kin in the last book. We hope that the action and melodrama pick up in the next book!
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