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ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover illustration by: Tomas Almeida
A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Last War (Book #2 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Pages: 608 pages
Published: 3rd December 2020 by Gollancz
A Fool’s Hope wonderfully surprised me; it is one of the finest middle installment I’ve ever read.
Alright, it is frankly unbelievable and ridiculous that many fantasy readers haven’t started reading this trilogy yet. I finished reading We Are the Dead earlier this year, and I was amazed by it already. A Fool’s Hope, the second book in The Last War trilogy by Mike Shackle, somehow managed to exceeded over its predecessor in every possible way.
“That’s the point. The problem when you think you’re an invincible fighting force is that you stop learning, evolving. It makes you predictable. Then the Egril showed us that we were only too beatable. We stopped being afraid of anyone. We stopped growing as warriors.”
The story in A Fool’s Hope starts immediately from where the first book ended, and it revolves around the Jia’s continuous war and revolution against the Egril. I’m genuinely impressed by Shackle’s storytelling capability in keeping a tight focus on the plot, action scenes, pacing, and characterizations. In the first quarter of the book, I thought I had an inkling of where the story was going; I was proven wrong, and the book became much better for it. Similar to the first book, this series has a way to keep me keep on turning the pages. No chapters were wasted; something important always happens in every chapter, and almost all of them ended in a cliffhanger. The page-turning strength of the book was so strong that it made me missed my meals, my gastric pain was triggered, and instead of eating real food, I continue to devour this story. Although A Fool’s Hope is essentially a bloody vicious war and survival story, there’s still a huge concentration on the emotional themes of leadership, responsibilities, duties, and family that enhanced the intense reading experience.
“I’m not a leader. No one’ll listen to me.”
“I don’t know anyone who’s been in command who hasn’t thought that. It’s normal. In fact, it’s the ones who think they should be in charge that you’ve got to worry about.”
The progression of the characters was astounding. War changes everything, and just within two books, so many pivotal events have happened to the characters. The best spoiler-free examples for this would be Tinnstra and Dren. If you’ve read my review of We Are the Dead, then you’ll know that I’ve mentioned that both Tinnstra and Dren were, for the first half of the novel, infuriating to the max. In this book, they constantly developed in a very organic way into becoming a relatively better individual who’s willing to stand up for what’s right. This, of course, didn’t happen exclusively to Tinnstra and Dren; Zorique and Yas also went through their own spectacular character development. I honestly can’t even decide which POV I liked most reading this time; they were all so equally compelling.
“People needed strength to follow, someone who could make hard choices when the time came, a leader they could believe would keep them alive. Ralasis was none of those things, but he could pretend with the best of them.”
Tinnstra’s relationship with Zorique continues to be a glowing spark of hope in the darkness, and I loved reading their brief training montage and moments of relative peace. Despite all of their personal flaws, I’m incredibly invested in these character’s stories; their feelings—positive or negative—were palpable. Shackle shows that ordinary people, when forced by dire and dangerous circumstances, will and can hone their untapped leadership and unleash their necessary brutality to protect what matters most to them. To make things even better, in this more or less eight POV-characters narrative, Shackle also includes characters from Egril’s side. We have seen Darius Monsuta’s cruelty in the first book. This time Shackle adds Mateon, and the addition of his POV displays the humane side of Egril’s individuals; maybe the differences between good and evil, in the end, can simply be defined by where their belief/loyalty lies.
“War’s orchestra played its merry tune in the distance explosions, screams, steel beating steel and the Gods only knew what else. Yas barely noticed it. Death and destruction had become as commonplace as birdsong.”
I could go on and on about the character’s development, but it would require me to spoil some details from the book, and I don’t want that; all the anticipations plus the twists and turns here should be experienced by each respective readers themselves. However, before I close this review, allow me to once again highlight that the easy-to-imagine quality of Shackle’s action sequences is, in my opinion, highly reminiscent of Abercrombie’s writing style. This isn’t a hopeful book; bad things and destructions happened frequently. Most of the battles in the first book utilize close-quarter combat with no magic involved; A Fool’s Hope featured a lot more magical power usage, and it was awesome. Shackle’s violent battle scenes always felt vivid and cinematic in my imagination; every scene was immersive. I was able to see the devastation inflicted, I was able to hear the sound of explosions, and it felt like I was in a constant state of battle/caution mode together with the characters when I read the book. It was THAT immersive.
“Solving a problem or winning a battle always amounted to the same thing: concentrating on what was in front of you. Deal with that first. Worry about the rest later.”
I don’t have anything else to say. Believe me, I have purposely left out most of the best elements contained within the pages of this magnificent book. The story was unpredictable, the pacing was relentlessly gripping, the battles were blood-stained pulse-pounding, and the character’s internal and external emotions were palpable. A Fool’s Hope is one of the best fantasy novels of the year. Shackle has outdone himself by crafting such a heart-hammering sequel, and I’ll go as far as saying that it’s one of the best middle-book installment I’ve ever read. Personally, I don’t think it’s a fool’s hope to think that the third book would finalize The Last War as one of my favorite trilogy of all time. This is a sequel done right, and I can’t wait to find out the upcoming onslaught to come in the final book of the trilogy. The Last War is indeed coming, and I won’t miss participating in it.
Official release date: 3rd December 2020
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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