ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
The Light of All That Falls by James Islington
My rating: 6 of 5 stars
Series: The Licanius Trilogy (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic fantasy, High Fantasy
Published: 12th December 2019 by Orbit (UK) & 10th December 2019 by Orbit (US)
A breathtakingly audacious masterpiece of epic fantasy, The Light of All That Falls is an emotionally satisfying and flawless conclusion to the phenomenal Licanius Trilogy.
I am utterly astounded and in awe. The Licanius Trilogy is one of the most incredible trilogies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I think that James Islington is an extraordinarily gifted epic fantasy writer. I almost couldn’t believe that this was a debut series as it was ambitious beyond belief, and yet Islington was able to masterfully wrap and tie up every crucial thread and loop; pulling off an amazingly perfect finale that kept me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page. I would be harping on similar things that I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, but all these need to be said. As I would not be able to mention nor describe anything about this book in detail without potential spoilers, I hope that these broad strokes would be sufficient to convince others to pick up this spectacular series.
Firstly, Licanius fits the vein of a classic epic fantasy told in a modern voice, and it is one of the best ones I’ve read in recent years. Its epicness could be found in the worldbuilding where the history of the world is steeped in myths, lore and legend of thousands of years, the scope of the story which was centred on world-shattering consequences, and the stature and/or powers of the key characters. Let’s face it, most of us who fell in love in fantasy did so because no other subgenre could quite give us this same epic feel. As much as I do enjoy the variety of fantasy subgenres that are available nowadays, nothing feels quite like going back to epic fantasy. Islington not only succeeded in creating a truly compelling story in this subgenre, he managed to do so successfully with a level of complexity that I’ve rarely come across.
“Nothing is truly beautiful unless it can be lost.”
A clear example of its grand scope would be the history and summary recap of the story so far that could be found at the beginning of The Light of All That Falls; this was 21 pages long! There was just so much to learn about the world, its histories and lore, as well as the magic systems of Essence and kan. Coupled that with the intricacies of multiple storylines to follow, these books are not meant to be breezed through. It was actually a good thing that the writing was direct and simple enough to make it easier to absorb all the details. This trilogy is made for binge-reading, or at least each book should be read as close to each other as possible. Even with the recap at the beginning of the second and third books, it would not be possible to remember all the important details.
“Truth can be a burden, but secrets are poison.”
I found it remarkable as to how Islington managed to so deftly wove the required exposition into each main character’s point-of-view, and hence avoided the dreaded info-dump trap. The many, many revelations were well-paced and well-timed throughout all three books, a lot of which came from a series of flashbacks. I’m aware that some readers find flashbacks disconcerting as it takes them out of the current timeline. However, I found that all the flashbacks in the series to be some of the most engaging and fascinating parts of the overall story as it fleshes out a lot of the history and lore of the world. And as if it’s not already complex enough, we also have time travel in the story, one of the trickiest storytelling elements to ever have been invented in the history of speculative fiction. I was initially worried when I first came across time travelling in the first book, as it is one of the most common ways of losing control of the narrative to logical inconsistencies. Just for this one single aspect alone, I applaud Islington for not abusing time travel as a plot device but staying true to its concept established from the beginning.
“A world where all possibilities are promised is, by necessity, a world in which God cannot take part. Cannot choose to affect the world in any way. If He exerts his will even a fraction, He is by definition changing how things could have been. He is removing possible outcomes.”
The dominant theme of this series is centred around beliefs and conflicting religious views between fate and free will. Should we believe in a god that allows humans to have free will in choosing their own paths, or one that is guiding us to make the right decisions to a pre-destined outcome? Out of all the main characters, the one who embodied the core theme the most is Caeden. What an extraordinary character he turned out to be; Caeden is not only my favourite of the entire trilogy, he is also one of my all-time fantasy favourites. His arc was an insanely captivating, emotionally powerful and empathetic story about having to live with immense guilt and shame, deep regrets and sorrow while seeking and aspiring to be a better man. There isn’t much more that I could mention because his story has the most number of pivotal revelations. All I can say is that Caeden has one of the best redemption arcs I’ve come across.
“Remember that your past does not define you – no matter the consequences. Choice is meaningless without consequences, and a privilege we do not deserve if we will not face them.”
I love reading a series where I’m so thoroughly invested in almost all of the characters; I even care for quite a few of the supporting ones. Davian, Asha and Wirr, the three main characters aside from Caeden, have compelling and strong character arcs throughout the entire series. All of them have come so very far that it didn’t even initially occur to me that only one and a half years have gone by since we’ve first met them in the first book. As each of them faced their own trials and tribulations, they were pushed to their limits of what they were capable of being while staying true to themself. Individually they were great characters, and collectively they were formidable ones. The love and friendship between Davian, Asha and Wirr made their stories even more wonderful. We don’t actually get to see them together very much, which made those moments even more precious.
“It’s not enough to fight for the right side. You have to figure out how to fight the right way, too. If winning is all that truly matters, then we’ve lost sight of what’s actually right and wrong in the first place.”
I can’t say this enough; the payoff from this trilogy, and especially in The Light of All That Falls, was tremendous. The complexity and intricacy of the plotting of all the storylines right from the beginning of the series work towards serving the ultimate endgame; what may have appear to be fillers at first glance eventually turned out to be important. Islington employed foreshadowing exceptionally well; sometimes it is so subtle that it could be easily overlooked. He also saved the most jaw-dropping revelation for last. Right until the last chapter, I felt that something was still missing. Then the Epilogue delivered a flawless conclusion by executing one of the finest closing acts of a series I’ve ever read.
“Be the man I aspire to be.”
We also get more heart-pumping action scenes and displays of immense power, and these were more reasons why I thought this was such an incredible final book. I think Islington writes around the action more than writing through it like Brandon Sanderson or John Gwynne. However, even without any major action, he was able to craft some thoroughly intense scenes that kept me on the edge; where I was the verge of grinding my teeth or taking deep breaths to calm down. And to top it all off, the emotional resonance was enormous. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so much heartache and sobbed uncontrollably while reading epic fantasy. But at the same time, there was so much hope and goodness that it made my heart feel full as well. In short, I was an emotional mess that felt completely wrung out when I finished the book.
What more can I say? One thing’s for sure, I would eagerly read anything that Islington writes in the future. The Licanius Trilogy has become one of my all-time favourite trilogies. This is a rare feat for a debut trilogy of such vision and ambition, and I cannot recommend this highly enough for fans of epic fantasy.