At long last I have finished the second RWBY novel and am one step closer to being caught up with the novels. It feels like a big accomplishment to me at least since I’ve had them checked out since forever. I thought this one improved upon the first book too. It expanded the cast so we got to see more of the classic characters and we also got more fights. That’s a win/win in my book.
In this adventure Team SSSN is not having a good time. The various members are upset at Sun for always ditching them to do his own thing. In particular Scarlet is super upset about this and keeps on taking shots at Sun. Meanwhile there are a lot of people vanishing from Vacuo so Team CFVY is on the case. They also have to find out more about the Crown, a mysterious villain group. Sun has been investigating the vanishings too so he volunteers his team to help….without telling them first. With all of the drama and disagreements that this team brings to the equation, should Coco even let them join in? Also, can they possibly save the world while they’re all fighting each other like this?
It felt like there was always a lot happening in this book which was nice. After all we have the vanishings going around, the Crown mind controlling people, and the school acting really shady. The Beacon students have even opened up a little counseling session where they all talk about how badly they feel. Now some characters like Sun take shots at this and have fun names for it like the Baby room but it was a nice bit of world building. We see how this move to Shade Academy has not been easy for them. Apparently they’ve even been excluded and bullied to an extent.
Now, when it comes to the counseling room I can see why Sun finds this to be a bad idea. The group all huddling together does seem like this will further widen the gap with the other students. At the same time, it seems like they wouldn’t be included either way so it gets tricky. I would say they don’t need this room to be honest. It doesn’t hurt anything but I’d probably be skipping to do more training and everything. Got to keep on getting stronger and stronger after all.
The school environment is something that does limit what the heroes can do for a while. Unfortunately they are still students so there isn’t a whole lot that they can do outside of the rules. They could try to escape but then they may have pro huntsmen after them. I’m sure the heroes could beat them up but after a point you start doing more good to the very people you are trying to protect. I was glad when the heroes finally make a stand but it certainly takes a while since the school is so bad most of the time. Forcing the heroes to change teams, not doing any investigating, etc.
Now, there are some twists and dynamics here but in the end I would not say that the school looked good. For example I did not like the principal Theodore all that much. Sure, he talked really tough and was ready to fight at all times but you have to do a whole lot more than that if you want to score a big win. When the going got tough and the villains attacked, he didn’t beat a single strong fighter. That’s a really bad look for a headmaster. He’s better than Lionheart but that’s really all that I can say for him here. Bravado without anything to back it up is basically pointless.
His secretary Rumpole also doesn’t look good. She’s at a high rank but doesn’t really know how to balance her time and lets her guard down too easily. She is skilled to be sure but ultimately tends to just get in the way the whole time. Some events later on help her make a bit of a recovery but ultimately she’s got some work to do for me to consider her to be a very strong character. Shade Academy loves to hype itself up as everyone in Vacuo is a resident tough guy but they don’t seem to be on the front lines when it counts.
As for Team CFVY, they are still the main characters even if they have to share with Sun’s team at times. So they get a lot to do and are reasonably solid. Coco has to go through a lot with her new team as not being the leader anymore is quite the experience. You can tell that she likes being leader and won’t take orders very well. She gets some solid fights here and ultimately takes control when necessary so I would give her a lot of credit here. She may not be my favorite RWBY character but I would say she did better here than in the first book.
Fox’s role is greatly reduced here but he still gets to have some action scenes here. Being blind is a great advantage in battles where everyone’s vision is gone due to the sandstorm always around. Fox ends up coming through for his team more than once so he’s still the MVP here. Without him the heroes would really be in trouble. He’s got more of a mean streak than the others and that’s always entertaining.
Velvet still has some issues with not being the leader and so she’s always trying to prove herself as a big fighter. Unfortunately this does lead to her being defeated multiple times but she does always get up. Velvet is a strong fighter after all so you won’t be keeping her down for very long. I’m glad about her enthusiasm but I would like to see her get a big win soon. In Volume 3 she was able to take down the Atlas robot because of how good her copy abilities were. She needs to tune into that and just take out her opponents.
Finally you have Yatsuhashi and he gets a big role here. After all, his ability to alter memories is really the perfect counter to mind control if you think about it. Just rewind to before they were controlled. It’s even easier in the book since just making contact with someone allows him to overwrite the control. He was definitely crucial here, no doubt about that. He’s often very quiet but I appreciate his loyalty towards helping Velvet. You can always count on him to show up.
As for Team SSSN, Sun gets a really big role here. As always he is dodging his responsibilities and tackling things solo the whole time. It’s always tended to work out for him like helping Blake and stopping Torchwick but his teammates still aren’t thrilled. This means he has no real time for them and doesn’t really want to talk about it either. Ultimately I was cool with that as Sun is more of a loner. He shouldn’t be the leader for sure but Ozpin’s the one who made that decision. I don’t think Sun would think twice about it if he was kicked out. He barely cared when they switched teams after all.
He ultimately still gets more done than the others because he is always running towards the action and doing his best to fight. What does hurt is that he looks so weak here. Remember that in the show he was overwhelming Torchwick who had been crushing Blake. Then he effortlessly defeated Ilya who had been going even with Blake. In the show Sun is shown to be a true powerhouse that people put on Yang’s level for a while there. In the book he looks like a complete weakling which also ends up making the rest of his moments look worse. That’s where the book made a mistake if you ask me. He should have been a lot more impressive and that would have helped make him more reasonable.
As for the other members, well Sage barely talks at all. You could write him out of the adventure entirely and barely notice the difference. He’s not happy about what Sun’s doing either but doesn’t really talk about it. Neptune’s with Scarlet on this but is more of a pushover so he just lets Sun toss him around. He has a sad moment where Team CFVY jumps him and then beats the poor guy up. Losing isn’t bad in itself but he was humiliated and threatened a lot. The guy even sold Sun out in the end. This book did not help Neptune’s case at all.
As for Scarlet, I thought he went out of his way to attack Sun a lot. He clearly took the whole thing the hardest so you do feel bad for him but he probably could have rebelled in a better way. I wouldn’t have minded seeing them fight, that could have been interesting. Ultimately Sun would usually let the insult slide though. Their dynamic should be interesting when they return in the show if there is still any tension between the characters.
As for the villains, there are two main ones here in Jax and Gillian. So Jax wants to rule Vacuo because he believes that it’s his birthright so he should rule over everyone. His semblance is pretty good since he can mind control people. He can’t fight very well directly though and that’s where his sister comes in. Gillian can use her abilities to drain someone’s aura or give it to someone else. So together they can mind control people and then give them extra abilities. With extra aura you remain invincible from opposing attacks for a longer period of time which is really handy. As a result they make for a very dynamic duo in combat here.
Gillian appears as the more reasonable character the whole time. Ultimately she will follow whatever Jax says but she knows when to run away. Then you have Jax who figures that he can just keep on fighting and lose like a hero but it’s far better to escape and fight another day than to just lose like that. He wasn’t the best villain but I did think that this plot made for a more urgent one than in the first book. After all this is a full invasion this time with a ton of villains taking part. It wasn’t just your average fight and it was also a good way to finish up the plotline with the characters wondering if they could have done more in the first invasion. This was their chance to save a kingdom instead of letting it fall. (Not that there’s more that they could have done the first time. They’re just really hard on themselves about it)
Aside from the two main villains you’ve also got Umber who was a solid foot soldier. Her ability to freeze her opponents in place was extremely handy. After all if you can’t move then you can’t fight back. There aren’t many fighters who have a semblance that can counter this. I assume if you are strong enough then you may be able to break free but there’s no guarantee.
Then you have the villains from the last book. Carmine is still running around and causing as much trouble as always. You have to respect her dedication here, she just never gives up and always looks good in a fight. She crushes Coco here and shows that she is one of the more versatile villains around. Bertilak shows up as well but since he was betrayed last time, he isn’t really doing very well when the heroes see him here. He never lost his confidence though and heads off for revenge so maybe he will appear again at some point. There’s certainly more that you can do with this guy.
Ultimately these two books may not have made Team CFVY jump up the charts all that much but it’s nice for their fans that they got these two adventures. Additionally, a lot of random students from the background got some roles here like Olivia. Good luck remembering all of their names but if they ever get big roles in the TV show, now you will have more context on their abilities and personalities which is always handy. It helps expand the universe which is always good. There was also just a lot of action in this book and I’m always up for that. Maybe one day we’ll get an animated adaption of the novels, that would certainly be cool.
Overall, Before the Dawn is a solid follow up to the first novel. It felt like every plot line was addressed and the characters are all in a better place now. They’ve finally been able to come to terms with everything that happened and got to hone their skills. Everyone should get along a lot better at Shade Academy now and they will be ready for the future adventures. I’m definitely ready for the third book now. It might be a little while before I get to check that one out since the library doesn’t have it yet but I’ll be waiting. I definitely recommend reading this one in the meantime.