Book Review: Until the Last (The Last War, #3) by Mike Shackle

Book Review: Until the Last (The Last War, #3) by Mike Shackle

ARC was provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

Cover illustration by: Tomas Almeida

Until the Last by Mike Shackle

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Last War (Book #3 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

Pages: 784 pages

Published: 21st July 2022 by Gollancz


The Last War is over. Another favorite ongoing series concluded.

The Last War trilogy by Mike Shackle has been one of my favorite ongoing series since I read both We Are the Dead and A Fool’s Hope in 2020. Now that it’s finished, I can safely say this has become one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. And it is undoubtedly one of the most underrated fantasy series out there. Despite talking and shouting about this series so many times for the past two years, it seems like I still need to shout about it more because it seriously deserves so much more recognition. It is shocking how relatively few fantasy readers talk about this trilogy. I don’t think you can go wrong with reading The Last War trilogy if you love reading a war story or military fantasy series. Especially if you love reading a fantasy series that revolves around ordinary people rising up to do everything they can to survive and fight back. At all costs.

‘Come on, my love. This is why… we trained. We fight… until the last.’

Until the Last is the third and final book in The Last War trilogy by Mike Shackle. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year. And considering the high excitement I had prior to reading it, I must say that Shackle successfully delivered a highly satisfying conclusion to the series. I will, however, first note that it has been two years since I first read the previous book: A Fool’s Hope. The story in Until the Last begins a few days after the end of A Fool’s Hope. It centers around the campaign leading to The Last War, or Sekanowari. I did not reread the previous books; I wish I did. And I wish there was a detailed summary of the previous books or character list and what happened to them to ease my reading experience. It has been two years and almost 200 books since I read A Fool’s Hope. Despite how much I enjoyed Until the Last, I cannot help but feel I would enjoy it much more if the book had a detailed summary/character list. Or if I did a reread of the previous books first, really. Other than Tinnstra, Zorique, Aasgod, Jax, Darus Monsuta, Dren, Matteo, Yas, and Raaku, I spent hundreds of pages trying to remember who was who. Initially, I did not even remember that Ralasis (one of the POV characters in this book) had appeared in the previous books! But anyway, you get my point. I think the existence of detailed summaries has to be a norm in fantasy sequels. Fortunately, despite this minor obstruction, I remain captivated by Until the Last. And I have no doubt I would love it more if I had reread the previous books first.

“Better to have a sword and not need it than need a sword and not have one.”

Because this is the third and final book in the series, please understand that I am insanely limited in what I can say in my review. But I can definitely say this. One of the main themes I loved most in Until the Last (and The Last War trilogy) is how individuals rise to the extraordinary in the direst of circumstances. This doesn’t mean they always do the right thing; far from it. These characters have suffered a lot. They did many questionable actions throughout the trilogy. As I said, survival at all cost. This is something that has been established since We Are the Dead, and it is continuously expanded until the end of Until the Last. I, more often than not, tend to enjoy reading a fantasy series that is not afraid to kill off its characters. And I am not saying it cannot be done right when a series refrain from doing this. But it truly bothers me sometimes when a fantasy series that revolves heavily around war, oppression, and invasion is scared to kill off any of its characters. Unpredictability in which character will survive is, thankfully, one of the key strengths of each book in The Last War trilogy. Including Until the Last. And this is one of the many reasons why each volume in this trilogy was so compelling and unputdownable.

“Best to trust no one. Assume everyone was an enemy. Might be a shit way to live but forgetting those simple rules was a shit reason to die.”

Another super positive aspect of The Last War trilogy is its characters and characterizations. One of my favorite things about reading a series is (especially in sequels or the last book of a series) when I sit, think, look back, and remember. Remembering how far each character has developed since their first appearance is a great experience, and this is something that Shackle executed well. Constantly. Many key characters in the series have been developed magnificently in A Fool’s Hope. And I was left impressed by the culmination of their development and journey in Until the Last. Again, this is a series where no character is safe. From here on out, I will not mention any character’s name to avoid spoilers. I will, however, assure you of one thing. Despite the darkness, blood-soaked actions, and morally grey characters that filled the trilogy, the despair in The Last War never felt relentless. Even if The Last War can be categorized as a grimdark fantasy trilogy, this is a dark military fantasy series about war, survival, and the nature of humanity. And one of humanity’s nature that is impossible to extinguish means hope and love at its core. I loved it so much. And it feels bittersweet to finally say goodbye to these characters I’m invested in.

‘Do you know what the soldiers call you?’ ‘Do I want to?’ Zorique doubted it was anything good. ‘Hope. They call you Hope.’ ‘That’s something, I suppose.’ ‘That’s everything.’

If you still haven’t read any books by Mike Shackle yet, I’m here to remind and assure you once again that Shackle is brilliant at writing action scenes. This has always been the case since We Are the Dead, and the trend never stops until the last page of this novel. Until the Last is, from my analysis, the most action-packed volume of the trilogy. Almost the entire book is battle after battle after battle. There was a close-to-zero room for a break for the characters and readers. This indeed caused a slight feeling of repetition in the first half of the novel, but the dramatic improvement in the stakes and pacing improved in the second half more than made up for it. I was utterly hooked and immersed by all the pulse-pounding actions.

‘It’s not you I’m angry at– it’s the world. Life shouldn’t be like this– our lives shouldn’t be like this.’

Now that we’re at the end of the series, do I consider Until the Last my favorite volume in the trilogy? Well, I will have to say no. To be fair, A Fool’s Hope was REALLY hard to top. As a sequel, it was everything The Last War trilogy needed in the middle installment. But on top of that, I think the final villain, Raaku, proved forgettable and disappointing. Every previous villain in the trilogy, especially the one from the first book, was much more memorable and terrifying than Raaku. Not only does Raaku feels very one-dimensional as a villain, but the final confrontation against him itself was also way too short; only 2% of the novel. Shackle is superb at writing protagonists and antagonists, and I found Raaku to be far from being Shackle’s best antagonist. I think sacrificing some of the campaigns in the first half and new POV characters in exchange for developing Raaku or the intricacies of world-building would’ve benefitted Until the Last further.

“But sometimes the world choses the heroes it needs when it needs them and all we can do is try and answer the call as best we can. And thank the Gods, you have risen to the challenge better than anyone could’ve hoped.’

Fortunately, this is a minor issue in the grander brilliant of Until the Last. From devastating magic, bloody betrayals, and incredibly intense war after war against every creature in Sekanowari, Until the Last is an action-packed and thrilling concluding volume from the beginning to the end. Although not as good as We Are the Dead and A Fool’s Hope on my first read, it does not change my opinion that The Last War trilogy is one of the best fantasy trilogies I’ve read. And if you are a reader who loves reading an action-packed and satisfying final volume of a series, Until the Last is for you. Bravo, Mike Shackle. I look forward to your next series!

One last thing before I forget, I appeared in this book! Check it out:

“‘Who’s going to talk to them?’ said Petrik. He was a Shulka, from Clan Rizon, like Moiri. Older than both Jax and Moiri, he’d never risen in the ranks, he was just happy to follow, happy to fight. The battles had taken a toll on him, though, as there was hardly a part of him that wasn’t battered or scarred. ‘Not you,’ said Moiri. ‘Not unless we want to frighten them to death.’ Petrik rubbed at his cauliflower ear. ‘My mother always said I was the best-looking of her children.’
‘Not saying much,’ said Dev. ‘I’ve seen the rest of your family.’”


Series Review:

We Are the Dead: 4.5/5 stars
A Fool’s Hope: 5/5 stars
Until the Last: 4.5/5 stars

The Last War: 14/15 stars


You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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