Prophecy: Child of Earth by Elizabeth Haydon (Symphony of Ages, #2)
Prophecy: Child of Earth builds on the events of Rhapsody to make a high-fantasy epic which is deeply concerned with consent, boundaries, found family, and working through past trauma. Vast stretches of the book are fun, but the heavier content gets very dark.
This is a solid book two which I think is robust enough to be read by itself if someone were to come across it and not know there's a series (though please, do start with the first book). There's a graceful balance between closing off lingering plot threads and setting up new ones, and many of them are handled in a way that means the thread isn't really closed; instead the responsibility for addressing it has been passed to a new character.
The way the magic is handled here appeals to me, it runs on a lot of intuition and bending the shape of things to suit one's intent. It's a softer magic system, one unbothered by explaining all the rules, and instead it's getting on with the story. I also like how the characters interact, including how sometimes (often) they don't fully understand each other but have to figure it out anyway. It's shown in a way that makes their motivations and hangups very clear to the reader, even if they're not always able to speak plainly amongst themselves.
I continue to appreciate the balance of implied and explicit content, especially around sex and violence as they are described (or not) within this book. There's a nuanced understanding of consent in the text, with room for some characters to first not understand its importance, then to learn and grow. When there are scenes of violence the focus is often more on the mindset of the POV character in that moment, and how the scene feels, rather than on the mechanics of exactly how the battle occurs. There is a sexual assault late in the book which was very upsetting to read, but mainly because of its implications and who appeared to be involved, rather than how it was described in the text (it wasn't particularly graphic, but it conveyed a deep sense horror at that event).
There are large sections of the book that are sweet and uplifting and lighthearted, but part of that is because they are placed in contrast with some very tragic past and present events. The book overall feels adventurous, but I can't call it lighthearted overall because of how very very dark some sections became. If you like high fantasy and want a doorstopper with complex characters, and a nuanced portrayal of sex, sexuality, and consent, then try this book (and this series).
Book CWs for violence, murder, massacre, cannibalism, death of a child, discussion of sexual assault, sexual assault of a minor.