I was intrigued by the idea of this alternate branch story. In practice, though, I’m finding that there’s a pretty narrow road for the author to walk. Too little divergence from the original, and I feel it’s not really different enough to justify its existence. Too much divergence, and I wonder why not just write a new story. In this book, Jones is straying closer to the latter margin.
There are certainly things that hearken back to the original (now the original second book, Threads of Malice), and Jones brings in a supporting character from the first book. If this version is her original, it explains to some extent why that character seemed so menacing, yet in the end was something of a red herring. Yet Jones also introduces completely new material (conceivably a variant of what’s in Threads, but so different that it counts as new). It’s interesting, because I’ve always thought a strength of the series was the vast backstory that’s only hinted at. Jones does more than hint here, but it also sometimes feels as if the backstory has gotten a little out of control – too epic, too devastating – and opens up more questions than it answers. I think Jones is on stronger ground as she, little by little, expands on Dubric’s relationship with the goddess Malanna.
One thing I do like about this book (and all versions of the story) is that it doesn’t pretend Risley (a key protective figure) is a true hero. He’s incredibly selfish and perfectly willing to put others at risk to protect the people he cares about. The book points that out, but I wish it had taken things a little further and made Nella (his love interest) a little more concerned about it. As is, she now seems to be all in on Risley, so long as he’s on her side – so she’s selfish as well.
I’m still very interested to learn more of the backstory, and looking forward to reading Jones’ Amazon Vella series that seems to focus on Dubric’s late wife. Overall, though, and allowing for first impression bias (that is, I read them first), I still lean toward the original books being the better version of the story. This book, though, is a good (and less chaotic) extension of the Winter of Ghosts series.