Death’s Beating Heart by Rob J. Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Grimdark, Adult
Pages: 480 pages
Published: 26th December 2022, Self-published
Note: spoilers from the previous The War Eternal books below.
A powerful ending to a fantastic series, Death’s Beating Heart delivers equal measures of pain and triumph that grants Eskara Helsene the legacy she deserves.
At the end of book four, Eska’s daughter Sirileth crashed a moon into the surface of the planet to prevent the world’s destruction from The Maker. Sirileth killed countless thousands to save millions. But the planet’s environment has become unlivable; there is no direct sunlight, crops are dying, the water is dirty, and kingdoms are focused on their own survival instead of working across borders to find solutions. Oh, and there’s an unspeakably powerful immortal entity called Norvet Meruun that is conquering all of Sevorai, and threatens to cross the rift into Ovaeris. It’s up to Eska, Sirileth, and the fear-devouring horror Ssserakis to raise a resistance before the planet either dies from neglect or is destroyed through invasion.
Eska is such a compelling character because she is consistently misunderstood. Although she is the boogeyman to her peers, she usually has best intentions in mind: she’ll defend her family and friends at all costs, taking no prisoners along the way. She is also prideful to a fault; she is responsible for unspeakable horrors, but also gravitates toward taking on extra guilt for actions of which she had little influence. Hayes has also done an excellent job writing Eska’s struggles with depression. The listlessness and desire to shut off during times of anxiety or crisis felt genuine and visceral. Eska is presented with excruciating choices where there is no easy solutions, and although she might be the most powerful Sourcerer on the planet, she’s just as vulnerable and human as the rest of us.
But not all is gloom and doom! This is a grim novel, but it is also an absolute blast to read. Hayes’ Otherworld creature design impressed me to no end. I won’t spoil the details, but Flowne and Kekran are two of my favorite monsters I’ve read in recent memory. They are powerful and horrifying and launched some of the best battle scenes in the entire series.
Death’s Beating Heart is a story about sacrifice and consequences, and how far a mother will go to protect what she loves. All throughout Eska’s narration, the reader was tantalized with foreshadowing and references, and Hayes managed to pull all the strings together beautifully for an epic, memorable conclusion. The first half of the book took its time setting the table, but the feast of an ending made it up for its relatively slower start.
Fans of grim fantasy with dark humor, high sorcery, epic battles and characters with singular voices will find a lot to love in The War Eternal series. Highly recommended.