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Author: Adam Weller

BOOK REVIEW: UNTIL THE LAST (THE LAST WAR BOOK 3) BY MIKE SHACKLE

BOOK REVIEW: UNTIL THE LAST (THE LAST WAR BOOK 3) BY MIKE SHACKLE

Until the Last by Mike Shackle
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Grimdark
Pages: 772 pages
Published: 21st July 2022, Gollancz


Until the Last concludes one of the more harrowing, anxiety-ridden, emotional whiplashes of a story I’ve read this year. It squeezes the tiniest shred of hope from the grimmest of situations and proceeds to hammer it down to a barely visible spark. But somehow, it’s enough for our protagonists to cling to as they solider on to try and liberate their beloved Jia from the colonization of the evil Egril empire. And that’s one of the biggest draws of the trilogy: how these characters can still hold on and press forward while things fall apart around them at such a grand scale. This is a violent, unforgiving tale that tests the boundaries of human willpower, and it’s fascinating to see the results.

The rebel Jian army, led by Zorique, Tinnstra, Aasgod and Ralasis, are marching their way north to Aisair for the final battle against Raaku, the self-proclaimed son of a God, and his Egirl army of Skulls, Chosen, and other winged demons and giant monsters. They face impossible odds, and the suffering is immense. There are fascinating POV characters carried over from previous books that give you perspective from different areas of the world: an in-the-trenches view from Ange, a rebuilding effort from the unlikely leader Yaz, a spy mission from Wenna… and then there’s Jax. Poor, wretched Jax. If you think Jax had it tough in the first two books, Shackle saved some of the best (worst?) for last for everyone’s favorite one-armed general. He’s the trilogy’s resident punching bag, the doomed soul, and Shackle’s brutality knows no bounds. I had to pause for some deep breaths after some of Jax’s chapters.

One of the strongest parts of Shackle’s writing is his pacing. Every chapter was key in moving the story forward, and they usually only took ten minutes or less to read through. It led to a ‘just one more chapter’ scenario each night and kept me up far too late. There wasn’t a single POV that I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next. There were several moments of “did that really just happen?” and a couple of good mysteries that weren’t revealed until the final pages, so there was always an excuse to keep pressing forward. The action was nonstop, but it was the tough moral choices and the characters’ grit that held my interest the most.

The Last War is a brutal, unforgiving series with hard choices and harder truths. If you like your stories grim with characters of questionable moral fiber, in a world where hope is the very thing that could kill you, then you’ve found the perfect series to keep you riveted.

BOOK REVIEW: PRIEST OF CROWNS (WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE, BOOK 4) BY PETER MCLEAN

BOOK REVIEW: PRIEST OF CROWNS (WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE, BOOK 4) BY PETER MCLEAN

Priest of Crowns by Peter McLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Political Fantasy
Pages: 481 pages (Kindle Edition)
Published: 4th August 2022, Jo Fletcher Books


For three books, Tomas Piety’s memoirs have tracked his evolution from soldier to priest to gangster to Queen’s Man. Priest of Crowns takes what you know and burns it all down into glorious wreckage, and it was a brilliant and unexpected journey that caught me flat-footed.

Be very wary of an old man in a young man’s game.

Tomas Piety is a meticulous man. He plays every move close to his chest, and his clever and careful actions have allowed him to ascend far up the ladders of both politics and crime. But living in the capital city of Dannsburg, it’s not just about ascension anymore, it’s about survival. As a Queen’s Man, rubbing elbows with those who turn the gears of government, one wrong move—hell, one wrong comment—and Piety will find himself swinging from the gallows come morning. Thus, one of the more interesting struggles that McLean writes for Piety is a deep insecurity about the amount of respect he gleans from his companions. He is compelled to be the boss, even from those he calls friends. He craves respect and is willing to sacrifice the bonds of friendship to fulfill his need to be the alpha, in all situations. Therefore, it was great fun seeing Tomas out of his comfort zone, facing enemies more powerful than himself, or dealing with allies who were unreliable and borderline insane.

Priest of Crowns is full of surprises and savage heartbreak. Tomas’ evolution from man to boogeyman is a brilliant journey to witness, ingeniously constructed over four books and blown apart in its final moments. It questions the nature of sacrifice, and it dares you to re-read the series from the start with new perspective on it all.

‘Sometimes you have to weigh two evils in your hands and choose the lighter one.’
‘I’m not sure I believe that,’ Anne said.

I’m going to miss one of my favorite narrative voices in fiction, though he got the ending he deserved. A screen adaptation of War for the Rose Throne could easily stand beside prestige dramas like Breaking Bad, Peaky Blinders, and Better Caul Saul. McLean has crafted a remarkable story with a distinct voice on the state of modern politics, and a cast of colorful, vibrant characters that brought the story to life. Unputdownable.

BOOK REVIEW: THE FIRST BINDING (TALES OF TREMAINE BOOK 1) BY R R VIRDI

BOOK REVIEW: THE FIRST BINDING (TALES OF TREMAINE BOOK 1) BY R R VIRDI

The First Binding by R R Virdi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Epic Fantasy, South Pacific Fantasy
Pages: 830 pages (Hardcover Edition)
Published: 16th August 2022 Tor Books (US), 18th Aug 2022 Gollancz (UK)


The poetry snuck up on me.

During a section of this book, there was a story within a story, a chapter-long tale that was written in regular narrative fashion… but then I started noticing how all the sentences were split in half, and those half-sentences started to rhyme. They weren’t written on the page in verse (although there were plenty of songs and poems found elsewhere throughout the book). No, this chapter had built-in rhyming couplets woven into the chapter’s narrative that were subtle, yet incredibly powerful. And it went on for an impressive length of time. Not all lines rhymed, but enough to feel like you’re reading some epic poem of yore, adding to the mystique of the ‘storyteller-telling-a-story-within-a-book’ vibe. A Russian doll of tales. An ouroboros of oration.

The First Binding is a massive undertaking. I’ve read trilogies shorter than its 800+ page length. And as I neared the end, I did not want it to finish. It is many stories in one: about present day Ari, ‘The Storyteller,’ who is on a mysterious mission far from home. It is intercut with Ari telling his life story to a mysterious stranger, where we learn about the legend of his youth, and how he became so powerful and infamous. And it is about the changing world surrounding Ari and this stranger, as turmoil and unrest may force Ari’s past to catch up with his present.

You may have heard this one before: a talented kid with a tragic beginning, telling his tale at a tavern to set the record of his infamy straight. The comparisons to Name of the Wind are deserved. Although I am a fan of Rothfuss’ series, I felt like Kvothe’s story often spun its wheels. Not once did I get that feeling while reading this book. Virdi packs an incredible amount of lore, memorable characters, hateful antagonists, complex magic systems, religious history, races, classes, geography, music, and of course, stories into one volume – yet by the end, it still felt like our time with Ari was just beginning.

There’s so much to unpack in this story: hidden clues, jarring mysteries, and nagging questions as to why certain things are the way they are. This book isn’t even out yet, yet I have to restrain myself on Twitter from bombarding the author on when he thinks book two is going to be published. Virdi is excellent at giving us just enough information to theorize a hundred different paths for the story to turn.

I think this is going to be a landmark book when it publishes. It might take some patience, as the first 10% or so is a bit slower than the rest, but once you lose yourself in this South Asian-inspired fantasy world, there’s no turning back. The First Binding is a grand, mesmerizing story that never ceases to unveil new layers of mystery and wonder throughout its epic scope. A rare treasure of a novel, and something truly special.

Short Story Review: Hounds by Clayton Snyder

Short Story Review: Hounds by Clayton Snyder

Hounds by Clayton Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Grimdark
Pages: 15 pages (Kindle Edition)
Published: Grimdark Magazine #30, 22 April 2022


Short stories are tough to review, especially in the case of Hounds. There’s a very limited amount of real estate you can work with, and Snyder tips his hand at many new ideas and characters that we barely get to spend time any time with. Before we know it, the story is over, and I’m left wanting more – which is a good thing! On the flip side, why introduce certain elements if they’re never going to be dug into? Not that every detail must be explored, but I felt that a lot of potentially interesting ideas were just barely touched upon and then dropped entirely, be it an allusion to power, a relationship status or history, a mention of ancillary characters, or important world-building elements. In some cases, less is more, but I would have appreciated more being more, here.

Onto the story itself.

Hounds is about making tough choices while raising children out in the wilds of a plague-infested land. In this world, the morality is so grey that our narrator must consistently remind himself to take the higher ground. But as the story progresses, what constitutes the higher ground keeps changing for the worse. When there’s no easy choices left, at what point should survival be considered optional?

It is a bleak story with a dark ending, and Snyder’s writing is powerful and effective at conveying the hopelessness of the narrator’s journey. But without knowing more about the surrounding circumstances, I couldn’t fully relate to the decisions of the narrator. There was a bit of a disconnect in understanding his motivation and reasoning. However, the experience of reading the story itself I very much enjoyed; Snyder has a knack for quickly creating effective atmosphere in his stories and Hounds brings this in spades. If you’re a fan of creeping dread, walls-closing-in tales of paranoia, then this is a story for you.

Cover Reveal: THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED (The War Eternal #2 – Hardback Edition) by Rob J. Hayes

Cover Reveal: THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED (The War Eternal #2 – Hardback Edition) by Rob J. Hayes

Greetings, everyone! Adam here, and I’m thrilled to announce Novel Notions’ participation in the cover reveal for Rob Hayes’ hardback edition of THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED, book two of The War Eternal series. Let me turn it over to Rob to discuss the backstory of how these stunning hardback editions came to be.


Here we go with something a bit fancy. To mark the 2nd anniversary of The War Eternal (I still can’t quite believe it’s been 2 years already), I decided I wanted to give Eska some nice hardbacks. I don’t know about anyone else, but I love collecting hardbacks. There’s something a bit different to owning a book that solid. But I didn’t just want to use the old artwork. I wanted to make these books a bit special. So I commissioned Felix Ortiz and Shawn King to bring whole new art to the books and to splash some new colour on the series.

If you’ll indulge me a short story, it all started with this image.

This was the original concept for Along the Razor’s Edge Felix produced so long ago now. I loved it. I loved it so damned much. But in the end we decided to go with something a bit more traditional for the covers. But I’ve never stopped loving that original version. So when I approached Felix with the idea for the new hardbacks, I told him I wanted them done in that style. He took it as a challenge.

For the new THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED cover, I told Felix I wanted three major components. The first was Eska looking a bit older and wearing some badass armour and wielding a couple of swords. The second was Ssserakis (the demon) looking no less scary, but more of an ally than an enemy. And the third was lightning because book 2 would not be complete without lightning! We played around with a few different colour schemes, and in the end settled on blues and greens. So I present to you all, the jacket cover for the The Lessons Never Learned hardback.

But that’s not all. The case of the hardback is also printed with the naked artwork and the book’s tagline on the back done in the same bespoke font that Shawn created for the titles. I’ve also completely reformatted the interior for as professional a book as I can make.

The hardbacks are available now from Amazon and probably some other online retailers.

And I sell signed copies direct from my website. But please be aware international postage is currently a bit ridiculous.

And, of course, I have to remind you all here that The War Eternal series is continuing this year. SINS OF THE MOTHER (book 4) is releasing on May 3rd. And DEATH’S BEATING HEART (book 5) is coming in December.


Check out our advance review of SINS OF THE MOTHER. You can also find the cover reveal for ALONG THE RAZOR’S EDGE from our friends over at FantasyBookCritic, and the cover reveal for FROM COLD ASHES RISEN at FanFiAddict here.

Book Review: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Book Review: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


The Book Eaters
 by Sunyi Dean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 304 pages (Hardcover Edition)
Published: 2nd August 2022 Tor Books (US), 18th Aug 2022 HarperVoyager (UK)


The Book Eaters is a feast of a story, with an aperitif of supernatural mystery, an amuse-bouche of family politics, three courses of contemporary Gothic horror, a vintage bottle of vengeance and a well-earned finale where diners get their just desserts.

Devon is a book eater, part of a race of supernatural entities that consumes tomes while absorbing the knowledge they contain. Devon is raising her five-year-old son Cai, who is not a book eater, but a mind-eater: he must sustain himself by feeding on the brains of others. This process is more vampiric than zombie: the feedings imprint the victims’ personalities upon Cai, so this five-year-old must contend with multiple identities constantly fighting for control of his mind.

Female book eaters are rare, so Devon’s Family—and the other Families of book eaters across modern day United Kingdom—arrange temporary marriages between Houses for procreative purposes. Eater women are used as little more than birthing cows before being forcibly separated from their children and moved onto the next marriage. It’s a patriarchal society full of empty promises and it’s horrifying.

The narrative structure of the book divides its time between Devon’s past, alternating chapters with present day Devon and Cai on the run. Dean is a brilliant world-builder, farming out just enough bits of information along the way to help fill in the gaps of Devon’s early years while helping the reader understand her motivation and goals in the present timeline. Not all is as it seems.

Everyone is a monster in this book, and they are all terrifying. Flashes of Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale rears its ugly head as Devon’s desperation becomes agonizing and palpable. One of my favorite themes of the story is how painful love can be, and this is a driver of so many of Devon’s major life choices, which sometimes lead to ruin. But throughout it all, there is a sliver of hope for a way out. All the years of terror and loneliness and desperation might lead to freedom and companionship with a side order of vengeance if her wild plans could somehow fall into place…

The Book Eaters is one of my top reads of the year. It is atmospheric, it is brutal, it is exciting and emotional, and I planned my evenings around it. It tackles themes of identity, parenthood, the dark side of love, the importance of hope and sacrifice, and what it means to grow up different. It resonated hard with me. Highly recommended.

Book Review: A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables, #2) by Alix E. Harrow

Book Review: A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables, #2) by Alix E. Harrow

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Series: Fractured Fables (Book #2 of 2)

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy-Tale, Fable, Urban Fantasy

Pages: 144 pages (Print Edition)

Published: 14th June 2022 Tordotcom (US), St Martin’s Press (UK)


The Queen’s gambit.

Endings. Who needs ’em? Not Zinnia. Not her own, at least, though she’s perfectly happy tripping through dimensions and rewriting fairy-tale endings for all the Sleeping Beauties across the multiverse. For five years, Zinnia has spent her free time on rescue missions without much self-reflection. Although Zinnia has survived her health scare, she hasn’t started living her own life yet. She has chosen to embroil herself in others’ lives, in other worlds, even at the cost of her best friend. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Until.

Multiverse wires get crossed, magic mirrors get magicked, and Zinnia ends up face to face with an evil queen from one horrifying version of Snow White. How did she get there, and why? And so what if this queen has smoldering good looks behind her wicked, witchy gaze?

What follows this near-death, meet-cute is a tale of redemption, of facing your future, of growing up and finding what home truly means.

Harrow’s prose is as elegant as ever, with sharp humor, cutting social commentary and clever dialogue. However, one aspect where I felt this book to be lacking was the story itself. The plot bent some of its own rules to get the story where it needed to go, and some problems resolved themselves out of luck and convenience. It wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from a Harrow novel, of which I have a very high bar set.

Small story grievances aside, this book serves as a lovely companion piece to A Spindle Splintered and a fine sign-off for Zinnia and friends. Even if this is the last we see of Zinnia (for a while?), I am eager to read any other fairy-tale multiverse stories Harrow might have knocking about. A Mirror Mended was a pleasure to read, chock full of romance, adventure, snark, and joy. You’ll be hard-pressed not to finish it without a smile on your face.

Book Review: Sins of the Mother (The War Eternal, #4) by Rob J Hayes

Book Review: Sins of the Mother (The War Eternal, #4) by Rob J Hayes

Sins of the Mother by Rob J Hayes

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The War Eternal (Book #4 of 5)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Dark Fantasy Horror

Pages: 352 pages (Kindle Edition)

Published: 3rd May 2022


And you thought your family had issues.

Eskara Helsene—along with Ruka and Tomas Piety—is one of my favorite narrative voices in fantasy fiction. She’s unafraid to be completely vulnerable to the reader, volunteering all the times she has failed, and for the catastrophes that lie square on her shoulders. Yet she balances her shortcomings by sharing wisdom that is hilarious, insightful, and always brutally honest. Her complexity and unpredictability have pulled the reader through wildly exciting adventures through the first three books. Book four is no different – in fact, it raises the bar for a finale of which I cannot begin to think of what it could contain. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Twenty years have passed between books three and four, and due to Eska’s accelerated aging process, this means our protagonist is now a one-armed woman who is approaching senior citizenship. Not your typical fantasy lead, and it was refreshing to read about the different challenges she faced on her journey. Other major themes addressed include found family versus blood relations, managing depression, redemption, racism, and faith.

One of the best things going for this series its engaging narrative structure. Throughout the entire The War Eternal series, Hayes has written Eska as the omnipotent storyteller, relaying her life’s history to the reader. Throughout the series, Eska dropped bombs like, “… it was the second biggest mistake of my life,” or “if I had only known I’d never seen them again, I would have done xyz differently.” Tantalizing clues of the future were dropped, and hints of major plotlines were casually, maddeningly inserted, which made me want to race through the pages to understand it all. Well, now that we’re at book 4, all the little things she had been alluding to have finally come to fruition, and they are paying healthy dividends.

There is a structure to many of the chapters where the first section focuses on what happened during the time jump, and the rest of the chapter takes place in present day. So, we’re really catching up on three separate timelines: early, hinted-at plotlines from the first few books, plus the missing twenty years, and finally the events of the present day. When they all finally converge, it’s a truly momentous occasion. Emotional, powerful, magical stuff, with huge repercussions. Can’t get much huger. Trust in this.

I’m left with a giant ‘what now?’ at the end of this volume, and it’s a great feeling, because it feels like both a cliffhanger and also a massive resolution to many storylines all at once. Hayes has crafted a triumphant return to The War Eternal series with Sins of the Mother. I’ve been reading Hayes’ work for several years: Best Laid Plans, First Earth, Mortal Techniques – and Sins reinforces The War Eternal as my favorite of the bunch.

Book Review: The Girl and the Moon (The Book of the Ice, #3) by Mark Lawrence

Book Review: The Girl and the Moon (The Book of the Ice, #3) by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Moon

The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Book of the Ice (Book #3 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Pages: 544 pages (Hardcover edition)

Published: 26th April 2022 by Ace (US) & 28th April 2022 by HarperVoyager (UK)


Mark Lawrence was once asked in an interview if he was a planter or a pantser—whether he planned his stories far out in advance or flew by the seat of his pants—and he described himself as the latter. After finishing The Girl and the Moon, it’s getting harder and harder to believe him. The final chapter of the Book of the Ice series not only caps the trilogy with an exceptionally strong finish but it also feels like an exclamation mark on his entire body of work, culminating all the major storylines from his other series throughout his publishing career into an Avengers: Endgame-style finale filled with triumph, tragedy, and hope.

Books one and two spoilers ahead.

After escaping Black Rock, traversing the ice, and making their way through a warp gate, Yaz, Theus, Quina, Thurin, Mali, and Erris have found themselves inside Sweet Mercy Convent, awaiting trial for theft and murder, thanks to the treacherous Eular. Right out of the … ahem… gate, the first few chapters place our heroes under heavy duress and the book is basically unputdownable until the opening sequence is resolved. Mark has a talent for strong openings, but this is his fastest, most exciting, highest-stakes opening sequence out of any of his novels, full-stop. The second quarter of the novel slows things down a bit as the troupe gets situated into their new surroundings, and the story does start to feel like it loses a bit of direction, as the characters don’t really know the best path to take. That quickly changes around the halfway mark, as there is a dramatic shift, several plot twists, some surprising character choices, and we’re off to the races until the rollercoaster ending.

The last line of dialogue feels like the both the symbolic and definitive end to the Broken Empire & Abeth saga, with a clear message that the last pages of this universe have been written, and something else entirely is on the horizon for Mark’s next projects. I get a sense that for the first time it will be unlinked to anything else he’s written before. If true, I’ll be sad to see this incredible world go, but it has been concluded with the utmost care for its characters and environment.

There was one moment in the closing half when a few lines of dialogue casually dropped, and it changed everything. Careful readers and longtime fans will pick up on the reference and will have their perspective on the whole trilogy re-evaluated, though it is possible to miss! Looking back, knowing what I know now, I am seeing the clues doled out along the way. I like to think I’m good at picking up on these things, but this time I was blindsided by the revelation and absolutely adored it. It’s rare to feel such an unexpected payoff that feels so earned and justified, and Lawrence pulled it off beautifully.

The Book of the Ice series is less of a sequel series than a companion series to The Book of the Ancestor, and strangely enough, I think that can be said for all of Mark’s series. Even though they take place at different points along the same timeline, there’s a fair argument that a new and thrilling experience can be gleaned by reading any of his series in any order you choose. I read them in order of publication, but I’m now curious at the different perspective I’d have gained if I read them in a different order. It’s a testament to Mark’s jazz-like style of storytelling – sometimes it’s the words not said that speak loudest – which adds to the mystique of each new volume’s release.

The Girl and the Moon is not only an exciting and rewarding finish to Yaz’s saga, but also a love letter to the universe and the fans who have appreciated its construction over the years. It is a rare book that makes its preceding books even better.

BOOK REVIEW: LOCKLANDS (THE FOUNDERS TRILOGY, #3) BY ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

BOOK REVIEW: LOCKLANDS (THE FOUNDERS TRILOGY, #3) BY ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

LockLands

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Founders Trilogy (Book #3 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Cyberpunk

Pages: 496 pages (Kindle Edition)

Published: 28th June 2022 by Del Rey Books


A powerful and satisfying conclusion to this refreshing and inventive trilogy.

Locklands is a magic-infused techno-thriller with elements of cyberpunk and an epic fantasy chaser. The cover is telling: you, the reader, are peering through the cover’s keyhole into another realm, and opening the book will unlock its many secrets. This theme becomes especially relevant to the plot, as the stakes of the story involve rewriting the rules of reality itself. Good luck trying to guess what happens next. This is a blockbuster story, split into five parts, with each part presenting one long action sequence. It is tightly written and fast-paced, wasting no time putting you amidst against-all-odds battles. Ever since the opening pages of Foundryside, Sancia and her crew have been pulling off heists in one form or another. Locklands brings the story full circle by upping the heists to a level where the stakes could not be greater. It’s breathless, mind-bending fun.

Some plot spoilers for books one and two ahead.

Book three picks up several years after the end of Shorefall. Tevanne, an amalgamation of former ally Gregor and Valeria, is using its advanced scriving techniques to conquer the known world. All humans who fall under Tevanne’s path become part of its host army, to be used as sentries, warriors, or even worse: batteries. Sancia, Berenice, Clef, and some of the remaining Founders crew are part of a resistance group that are doing whatever they can to stop Tevanne from acquiring the means to re-write reality in its own horrifying vision. For years, Sancia and Berenice have been innovating to survive their fight against this unstoppable force and have built a new society along the way. Their own scriving method that allows for the “twinning” of minds has given this resistance society the means to have multiple bodies share one consciousness and work in harmony towards common goals. Contrary to how Tevanne occupies all its human hosts as one collective being, the resistance voluntarily shares their identities and souls with each other, linking to a chain of like-minded individuals who are dedicated toward their given societal roles. When two humans link, they share all thoughts and feelings, are able to see through each other’s eyes, and no longer have the need to speak aloud. Link more caretaking beings to this chain and suddenly you have a high-functioning medical unit who knows exactly how to run at full operational capacity and efficiency, with each person working perfectly in tandem, knowing the needs of everyone else at any given moment. It’s a huge sacrifice of privacy for the gain of unprecedented intimacy. Is this a choice the reader would be willing to make with their loved ones? There is a dichotomy that Bennett presents, showing the best and worst of this identity-sharing theme, and made me question what I would do if given certain choices that these characters had to make.

Although we spend a lot of time with our usual main cast, Clef was the primary focus for character development this go-around. His history was integral to the story; we couldn’t move forward without moving backward, and many of the questions raised in the earlier parts of the trilogy were finally answered. Testing the limits of Sancia and Berenice’s relationship was another major theme to this story, and you should prepare yourself with some Kleenex by the time the epilogue rolls around.

Boy, that epilogue. A heart-stomping piece of work that ties off this series beautifully. For as much of the story is an epic war of wit and machinery, there were a few emotional scenes at the end that are going to stick with me the longest. I’ll replay the awesome and creative battle scenes in my head, but I’ll feel the emotional avalanche of the epilogue for much longer.

Bennett has crafted a fitting finish to the Founders trilogy: one full of devastation, hope, torrid action, mystery, and brilliance. His scriving system of re-writing the rules to reality is one of the most creative, rewarding magic systems in any fantasy series I’ve read. Like The Divine Cities, the Founders trilogy smashes many genres into something wholly unique, fresh, and fascinating. I can’t recommend this author, or series, enough.