Skylark is not my favorite book. It wasn't even one of my top ten books of 2012. The world building is problematic, the beginning is a slog, and all the big twists are telegraphed way too far in advance. But I gave it three stars because it really does get much better as things progress, and there's this moment toward the end of the book that feels so heartbreaking and true, and that moment made me love Meagan Spooner (genuinely love her) because it takes a very specific kind of mind to write something like that. I had absolutely no idea where she would take the second novel, but I definitely wanted to find out.Shadowlark is, for all intents and purposes, a much better book. If you enjoyed Skylark, I cannot imagine a universe in which it would be possible for you to dislike its sequel. Everything escalates logically, and it doesn't fall into any of those typical second book holes (save one, which I'll get to later). If you found that first book to be problematic for the same reasons I (or--good Lord--Blythe) did, I'm not quite sure how you're going to feel here. Lemme break it down.The Good: We start right in the middle of the action this time. The first chapter kind of recaps things, and then we're out with Lark and Nix looking for her brother and lots of exciting things happen right away.The descriptive language is really lovely. Spooner does an excellent job of painting what she wants you to see, and her word choice is just fantastic.The world building is much better. A lot of the groundwork was laid in book one, so now we get to play. All the stuff that felt so boring and pointless in Skylark is beginning to make sense as we see how Lark fits into the huge world she's entered since leaving her home city in pursuit of her brother.The characters have such nice little real personality quirks--like the woman who compulsively corrects Lark's grammar--and seeing Lark interact with her friends Tansy and Oren, with whom she has such deeply complicated relationships in two very, very different ways, is a lot of fun. And Oren has some really great stuff here. I love Oren.And there are a lot MORE characters. It's not just a girl, a boy, and a metallic hummingbird for most of the book. And a lot of the new characters are really fun.Nix. I really, really, really love Nix. He is such an adorable robotic sidekick, and loyal in just the sweetest way.The Not-so-Good:One of my silliest enormous literary pet peeves is when a character has a dream and it doesn't follow the rules of real-life dreams, and Shadowlark has a BIG dream sequence that...hoo boy. It's just not my favorite thing in the book, I guess. I had a really hard time with it.Lark is kind of unlikeable. I appreciate that Spooner makes choices that show her protagonist in maybe not the best light, but it seems like everything anyone in these books does is because of Lark and how amazing she is. I'd like her to be a bit more amazing and maybe earn some of it.Spooner breaks canon a bit here, having people and creatures behave in a way that is contrary to how they're set up in Skylark. I can't really get more specific than that without being spoilery in an uncool way. But the monster moments in particular are pretty different from the monstery stuff we've seen in the past.There are also A LOT of coincidences, including a child being recognized by strangers who had seen a drawing of her at a much younger age. I get why something like this has to happen, but I wish it had been done more gracefully. Even a photograph would have been better than a drawing, you know?And none of this is such a big deal. I probably would have given Shadowlark four stars if it weren't for two things. The first (and this is really the only major second-book mistake made) is that there is an almost sitcom-y call-back to the moment of beauty from Skylark, and it feels wrong and and it feels cheap and it bums me out hardcore. The second, and probably more important, issue is that I knew what the HUGE ending plot twist would be instantly when I read the book's description. And even if it hadn't been set up the way it was in that blurb, I would have guessed it by 15% in. That bought me two one-way tickets to bumtown.But, again, if you enjoyed Skylark you will love this book. There is a lot more of the good stuff with very little of the bad. It's lovely and sweet and safe for young readers, and based on how well she spun this story off of the world established in Skylark, I'm excited where Spooner takes us in book three.Also posted at Finding Bliss in Books.