This is a tough review for me. I liked When She Reigns, and I think by itself I would have liked it even more, but I just don’t think it was all I needed it to be as the final entry of the Fallen Isles Trilogy. The book did have some strong moments, but I think it was missing some of the emotional stakes of the first two books, or they weren’t emphasized in the same way, so while the story was resolved satisfactorily, I didn’t necessarily feel fully satisfied.
I think this series is better served by reading all three books back to back, or at least within a couple months of each other, rather than how I had to do it, nearly a year apart. The supporting characters play more active roles in the first two books, but they’re mostly background players in book three; so while I remembered liking them, I wasn’t given too many reminders as to why in this final installment.
Unlike the others, everything about Mira, the protagonist, is great. From the first book, she’s been a character that is always fully fleshed out and continually shows growth in impressive ways, and that was still the case in When She Reigns. Her attitude at the climax, however, kind of took me out of the moment. Beware of spoilers to follow.
Now, I realize Mira loves her dragons, especially Lala, but to actually hesitate, even for a moment, to save the world over being separated from Lala, when she had walked into that moment with so little hesitation to sacrifice all her relationships with her human friends and family, was baffling to me. Mira wasn’t even actually giving up her relationship with Lala, just her almost psychic-like abilities to read Lala’s behavior. They’d still be around each other; Lala wasn’t going to stop being “her” dragon. Nothing else would change as a result of her “sacrifice.” If Meadows wanted that to feel so painful, there probably should have been more to it, and she definitely shouldn’t have set up Mira as so accepting when she’d believed she was giving up her relationships with the man she loved, her sister, and all her friends without even needing to tell them what might happen, let alone say good-bye. It just felt absurdly out of balance to me.
The story moves at a pretty decent pace, with plenty of action, but I was disappointed that subplots hinted at earlier in the series, like those regarding the women of Idris, and Altan and his faction, among others, were skimmed rather than really explored and tied into the main plot. Even the secret treaty with the Algotti Empire really only ended up serving as an excuse to allow Mira access to the Empire, rather than affecting the plot with real consequences.
Overall, I give When She Reigns 3 stars. It’s a solid book, but in terms of the whole series, it didn’t quite check all the boxes for me. The second book, As She Ascends, is probably the strongest of the series.