Entering the latter half of the series begs an interesting question. How does the author keep the story engaging and exciting when so much has already happened? That might sound strange, but truth be told it was something I hadn’t really considered before. Trilogies don’t have this issue, but anything longer essentially has a longer middle portion before hitting the climax of the series which can lead to some fatigue. I didn’t really feel it with Harley Merlin books 4 & 5, but Harley Merlin and The Cult of Eris by Bella Forrest, the 6th book in the series, starts to feel a bit like filler rather than something fresh and interesting.
With how the previous book ended, it wasn’t hard to figure that Finch would play a larger role in Harley Merlin #6. The only issue, however, is that the implementation of the potential redemption arc of “will he, won’t he” somewhat fails as Finch is the perspective character in this book. While we get a good idea of Finch’s character and how he develops throughout the book, it does ruin the tension that is constantly in the air (or supposed to be in the air?) as we know what he’ll do. It also doesn’t help that Finch seems like a more interesting character from Harley’s perspective rather than seeing anything through his eyes. His perspective spoiled the potential development of his character as it’s spelled out for the reader directly rather than inferred.
While Finch’s character feels more like a missed opportunity, Harley’s character is starting to enter some dangerous territory. Really, in my opinion, the only truly dangerous territories for a character to enter is either being irrelevant or becoming the dreaded “Mary Sue”. It’s unfortunately a symptom of her abilities and her relationships to almost every other character. Thankfully her development hasn’t started to warp the plot around her as is typical in those situations, but it’s slowly starting to feel like one misstep to that point. Challenges don’t feel as tense or concerning for her as they should and there’s a strange question of just how powerful she is. Sometimes it seems like she’s all-powerful and sometimes it feels like she’s not that much more powerful than the others. It’s a strange thing to grasp what feels like an inconsistency in what is an actual threat.
What’s very strange about Harley Merlin and the Cult of Eris, is that it feels like not much really happens and then suddenly everything happens and a lightning pace. Despite the fact that this book is just as long as the previous book in terms of page count which felt like so much had happened, it feels like certain parts of this book were spread out and made longer than was necessary. Looking back, it would have been easy to combine chapters and events to create a much better pacing throughout the story. There were parts of the story that felt utterly unnecessary and served only to lengthen the book rather than add to the story.
The story itself serves a decent chunk of narrative progression for the overarching series but doesn’t do well as its own contained story. The tension is minimal despite where the characters find themselves and any moment of tension almost immediately evaporates. It comes off as rather dull as there’s so much potential for exploration of the main antagonistic force to really drive home some fear in the readers for the characters. While it’s not exactly super predictable, it does feel like the reader will know how things play out as they read more and more.
Probably the most disappointing part of the book is that nothing is done to add to the world or further explore anything of interest. Infiltrating the Cult of Eris, the very militant force in the employ of the antagonist, doesn’t take the time to explore the darker parts of their magical society. It’s strange as it would have been so easy and so fascinating to explore the cultist mentality to follow a deranged and insidious woman that Katherine is made out to be. The disappointing part is that the people there don’t seem that interesting or fleshed out. It’s just a missed opportunity really.
While similar to the previous books in the series, the writing is fluid and easy to follow but ultimately runs into a problem tying into the rest of what was previously discussed. The pacing is so inconsistent and mostly slow to really get going. As a result, a lot of the chapters feel slow and plodding as more discussion and exposition is being shared rather than interesting and enticing character driven action. It’s not hard to follow along as the word choice and flow from chapter to chapter is smooth and easy. That being said, the plodding nature of the story made it harder to follow along as a lot of what was written felt like filler since most of it was old information or inferences rather than new worldbuilding.