Thursday, June 30, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #3) by Brian Staveley

Wow! I thought the first two books in Brian Staveley's the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy (The Emperor's Blades and The Providence of Fire) were intense, enthralling and engaging but everything gets ratcheted up several notches in The Last Mortal Bond, the third (and final) book in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.

The trilogy revolves around a trio of royal siblings, Adare, the eldest child and her two brothers, Kaden (the heir to the Unhewn Throne) and Valyn (the "spare heir"). There were some critiques of the first book (The Emperor's Bladesthat it was too focused on following the exploits and adventures of the male protagonists (Kaden and Valyn) while the primary female protagonist (Adare) was left at home to deal with more domestic concerns (of dealing with the ramifications of the assassination of their father, Emperor Sanlitun hui'Malkeenian). However this critique was muzzled when the second book The Providence of Fire not only increased Adare's profile in the plot considerably, but also gave increased "screen time" to awesome female characters like Pyrre, Gwenna, Triste, Huutsuu and Kegellen. In fact, one very beneficial change is that in The Last Mortal Bond has been Gwenna raised to a point-of-view character on her own (similar to Adare, Valyn and Kaden) and this is great because Gwenna is awesome!

However, what really makes the entire Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series really tick is the compelling writing by Staveley which forces the reader to care about the characters and makes the book almost impossible to put down, especially in its last third or so. In addition to the central question(s) of what will happen to our key characters (Kaden, Adare, Valyn and Gwenna) Staveley raises the stakes by adding a plot development that threatens ALL of humanity in the compelling world he has created and built. The entire series of books is action-packed and incredibly bloody and since the third book takes place while a war is devouring the Annurian Empire (or is it a Republic?) there are scenes of incredible carnage and thrilling chases.

One unusal (but interesting) aspect of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series is the infusion of religion, faith and belief throughout. One would think this would annoy or repel an atheist such as myself but it doesn't. Instead, Staveley's depiction of this society's various gods (Intarra, Goddess of Light and Fire; Meshkent, God of Pain and Hate; Ciena, Goddess of Pleasure and Love; Hull, Lord of Darkness; Ananshael, God of Death; Bedisa, Goddess of Birth) provides the kind of details on which his engaging and believable world-building is based. Many of our protagonists spend a fair amount of their time delivering imprecations and exhortations to various Gods (e.g. "'Kent-kissing" is a common curse). But since this fantasy, it turns out that some of the Gods in question (particularly Intarra, Meshkent and Ciena) become actual breathing and speaking characters in the story.

But the key feature of this book is really the action and the subsequent ruminations on the nature of courage and cowardice. This mostly happens in Gwenna's section of the story as she has to learn how to turn a group of people who had been branded as cowards and failures into a deadly fighting force. Gwenna and Valyn are members of  an elite fighting force called the Kettral. They are named after giant (i.e. 50 feet long) birds called kettrals that are used to gain air superiority on their enemies. To become Kettral you have to lose all sense of fear as you become hardened killing machines and a very small percentage of people who try out to be Kettral actually make it (and a large percentage of people die during the training, or during the Last Trial). All three Malkeenian siblings are put into some terrifying situations, which each of them deal with in different, but ultimately reasonable ways. Staveley presents several different ways in which characters deal with potentially fatal scenarios and it is incredibly compelling (and nerve-wracking, because Staveley is not shy about killing off characters we care about.)

Overall, I would argue that any fan of high epic fantasy (like those written by Peter Brett, Daniel Abraham, Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson and Richard Morgan) will greatly enjoy the work of Brian Staveley. I can't wait to read all his future books!!

Title: The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Book 3).
Brian Staveley.
Paperback: 656 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 15, 2016.
Date Read: April 10, 2016.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (4.33/4.0).


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