A month or so ago I reviewed Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet, the first book in what I'd assumed was a trilogy of fantasy novels. Though now that I've read the second book, Cyndere's Midnight, I'm starting to wonder if it might actually be a longer series.
In any case, the difficulties I had with the first book are much lessened or entirely absent in this one. Overstreet's style is still rich and lyrical in the tradition of Patricia A. McKillip's books or Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, but it flows easily here, seems less self-conscious and laboured. Exposition and backstory are woven gently throughout the narrative, rather than appearing in large and sometimes oddly timed chunks. And although the story continues to move from one part of Overstreet's inventive fantasy world to another and give us a range of perspectives along the way, there's no doubt who's at the heart of this story -- Cyndere, the young widow desperate for freedom from her ghosts and her despair and Jordam, the beast-man whose love of beauty was kindled by Auralia's colors and who is gradually discovering what it means to be human. They're both well drawn, compelling characters, and I readily identified with their struggles and emotions.
As the description of those two main characters would suggest, this is a sort of Beauty and the Beast tale -- but not in any predictable sense. What Jordam will become, or how his path may cross with Cyndere's in future, is not made fully clear. But even if (by necessity) many plot threads are left dangling for the next book in the series, there's a satisfyingly complex yet coherent story in this book with its own resolution, and I really enjoyed it.
Final verdict: I'd decided to give Cyndere a chance because I liked what Auralia was trying to achieve, even if I was less than confident about the execution. But now I feel that Overstreet's really hit his stride, and I'll be looking forward to the third book, Cal-Raven's Ladder, very eagerly indeed. Recommended.