I won an ARC and then realized this was part of a series, and even though the first book was kind of a joke, I figured I'd at least give this a shot since postage was wasted on it. That being said, I read through this very quickly and skipped some sections.
The Princess Knight takes place two years after the events of The Blacksmith Queen, and follows Gemma's adventures. People keep saying you need to read the books in order, but I think you'd be fine reading this as a standalone. Sure, you'll miss some details, but most of the characters from the first book don't really feature heavily in this book. (Though why you would want to read either of the books is beyond me.) Queen Keeley makes a few sparse appearances, the rambunctious Smythe clan is pretty much forgotten, and there's a whole new cast of characters introduced about halfway through the book because we really need to add more people to the mix. (I didn't even bother with remembering which name matched with which role at that point.)
A lot of my complaints about the first book are still true here. It's like reading the rough draft where form and style don't matter because the whole point is just to get all the ideas out on page. The story lacks good transition between scenes and just moves from event to event to event without any kind of development or detail. I'd say this is a result of reading an ARC, but I had the same issues with The Blacksmith Queen, so I think this is just Aiken's writing style. The world, the characters, even the actual story could've been fleshed out more, but instead Aiken wastes time filling space with tons of expletives and the same old insults. Even some of the bickering and "banter" is starting to feel repetitive, and the rare moments of humor I found in the first book are even more infrequent this time around. The switch between perspectives is marginally better here since the story primarily focuses on Gemma. She's a slightly more interesting character than her doe-eyed sister, but she isn't fully fleshed out and lacks any kind of meaningful development.
The story itself fell flat for me. Gemma goes on her own quest away from Keeley and her family and we meet a bunch of new characters. That wouldn't be an issue if the book weren't already so plot-heavy, and if the series didn't already have a slew of one-dimensional characters that need development. I don't know why Aiken is even bothering with the attempts at romance. Is it an attempt to attract more readership? Is she contractually obliged to have a love interest for her protagonists? Is it just an excuse to throw in a random sex scene? Whatever the reason, it doesn't work.