The close to Brian Staveley’s epic 3-part fantasy series is, in a word, epic. He devises a plot that weaves throughout all corners of the world he’s crafted, not unlike his Csestriim, making quite certain you’re fully invested in all the characters, before the final stage is set. And then he drops all hell onto Annur.
(Spoilers for previous novels and minor spoilers for this novel are present).
Taking over from Valyn in the first novel and Gwenna in the second, Kaden becomes the strongest point of view character by a long shot. Although the story has always seemed to wrap itself around the humble Shin monk, it has never felt so crucial as it does in The Last Mortal Bond. Fighting to keep Triste alive, as she carries Ciena, the Goddess of Pleasure, within her, the two seek the help of Meshkent, the God of Pain. But so does Ran il Tornja, as he seeks to kill both gods, thus destroying humanity once and for all.
Both Valyn and Gwenna have excellent story arcs in the book. Valyn has probably the best reintroduction of any one POV character I’ve read in years. You’re seriously going to be scratching your head until you realize what’s going on. And even beyond that, despite some really odd BDSM stuff, Valyn’s struggle is extremely interesting storytelling. He’s trying to seriously figure things out, because his sister attempted to kill him, he’s now blind, and he doesn’t know the fate of the rest of his Wing. But following his plight is immensely entertaining, because he gets picked up by an unlikely crowd, thus showing you a side of the war effort you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Gwenna’s storyline is also highly entertaining. We learn more about the goings on of what’s happening back on the Kettral Islands. There’s a big stirrup for the Kettral there, and it’s good to see Gwenna taking the lead in the ‘revolution,’ so to speak. My issue here is why? Throughout it all you’ll be asking yourself, despite enjoying it, how this could possibly tie in with the rest of the story. And it’s anticlimactic outside of its own parameters. This whole side-story seems to only serve as cannon fodder once the real battle at the end begins.
Adare is the most aggravating POV character on the market currently. I went into the novel hoping she’d be redeemed. And finishing the novel I don’t feel satisfied that she was. In one of her first chapters she throws a tantrum, destroys the hard work of thousands of craftsmen, and burns a room, and she never even gets a slap on the wrist because of it. If there were ever a character that needed a rude awakening, it’s her – but she gets them nearly every chapter and continues to be immeasurably stupid. She’s supposed to be this character who’s been honed as a political blade, but she’s as clueless and foolhardy as anyone else would be ascending to the Annurian throne. It’s as if someone gave Sansa Stark (circa books 1&2 of ASoIaF) unlimited power, a number of advisors that will do no more than make crude/funny remarks by her side, and she goes and does her own things anyway, making no good choices throughout the entire book, and only getting in the way of people.
The icing on the cake for Adare is that her sole motivation for doing anything in this novel hinges on the notion that she suddenly has a kid. The novel is conveniently placed 9 months after the events of the previous book, enough time for her to become attached to the baby, and thus giving her a logical reason to not only do whatever it is she does, but be utterly manipulated by the ultimate enemy of the series. If she had had a baby in the previous novels this wouldn’t have been an issue, but because it is suddenly immensely important to the overall plot, I feel this was added in at the last minute. I understand that this was hinted at previously, but to make it such a pivotal point in this story seems forced.
Was I the only one who wanted a one-on-one showdown with Balendin at some point? Maybe some actual fighting with Nira? And c’mon! Rampuri Tan needed a more substantial exit, although his far too rash actions pushed the story forward quite a bit.
But enough ranting. The book is excellent despite Adare. If Tolkien were a master poet, then Staveley is the master aphorist. Where Tolkien uses poetry and song to liven and expand his world, Staveley uses aphorisms and cultural beliefs to enrich his. His ability to create unique sociological and religious mindsets is astoundingly immersive.
The final book in the series is a strong one, and though it doesn’t strike true with every chord, it is a satisfying conclusion. The story feels like it’s truly finished, which is disappointing and gratifying. Disappointing because I’ll miss the story, but gratifying because it such a climactic ending. Thankfully, Staveley is currently writing another novel in his world, focusing on a side character from within the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.