Pearson’s second novel picks up right where the first left off – showing Lia’s (for lack of a better term) enslavement in intimate, teeth-gritting detail. Lia doesn’t suffer from physical labor during this time though and, except for a few instances, her enslavement is actually quite comfortable physically speaking.
The author wastes no time introducing us to the feared Komizar. Everyone in the dining hall, including Kaden, quiets when their leader approaches and it becomes quite clear that the Komizar thrives on their attention. We all know how our villains love control and the Komizar is no different. This desire is the part that makes Lia’s time in Venda so miserable.
Even as I write this though, I can’t bring myself to hate the Komizar and that might be the most confusing part of this novel. Despite everything he does, there’s a fact that always shows him in a different light – something that strips away the calculatingly cruel nature that is often evident in the novel and shows a human being. The Komizar is not cruel for the sake of cruelty; there is a reason behind everything he does. He’s always plotting and planning for the future. One moment he is dismissive and violent, the next he finds a kind deed to perform. His entire time as Komizar is a huge contradiction and a lie.
When the spoils of war are brought back, the Komizar is not the first to pick from the piles; he allows those who bring the equipment in to choose first. These runners are poor and don’t seem to have anyone looking out for them: except for the Komizar they say. At just the right moment, someone praises the Komizar because he is the only one looking out for them. Kaden even takes a moment to explain how such a man has earned his deep loyalty. Each of these details threw me off as I tried to reconcile them with the character; but it isn’t until the end that both I and Lia realized the truth.
It is all about control.
The Komizar’s cruelty is tolerated because of one massive lie: he is the only one looking out for his people. Even those who interact with him on a daily basis believe it, which is possibly what makes it so convincing. If you strip it away though – if you strip away the belief that he is only interested in their well-being, what are you left with? Murder. In some cases torture. Manipulation. He’s not a great guy, but the Komizar has masterfully perpetuated the one lie that makes everyone see these actions as acceptable.
When he asks Kaden to basically torture three people right before their execution, Kaden hardly bats an eye. Yes, he is clearly conflicted with this order, but he doesn’t curse the Komizar for it, because those on the execution block are deserters. In a desperate land, theft and desertion cannot be tolerated, no matter your age. The Komizar has made people believe that such actions are necessary for the sake of their country. Once again, he spins these gruesome actions into something positive: he is the one looking out for them. He has their backs.
Rafe and Lia don’t believe him for a moment. While Lia no longer sees them as barbarians, she never has any problems seeing the Komizar for what he is: cruel and manipulative. He will tell whatever lie he needs to in order to keep his control. He will kill who needs to be killed. He will mock those in need of mocking. He will corrupt those in need of corruption. He will take everything that is good and spin it to benefit him. He started doing it with Lia, so we can imagine how he did it to Kaden.
Confession: I wanted to like the Komizar. In those brief moments of kindness and charm, I wanted to like him. I wanted him to be who he was pretending to be; then that desire was dashed away the next moment as he paraded some detail or item around with the expressed purpose of causing Lia or Rafe pain. Then a few chapters later, I’d find myself hoping that perhaps he wasn’t so awful. This cycle continued for the entirety of the novel. Each moment made him possibly one of the cruelest villains not physically, but emotionally; and the fact that he does them with a certain purpose in mind only adds to the effect.
I liked the Komizar far too much and commend Miss Pearson for the perfect execution because (excluding Kaden) he left me the most conflicted throughout the entire novel.