The Last Mortal BondThe Last Mortal Bond
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Book 3
Brian Staveley
Tor Books
Release Date:  March 15, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7653-3642-2

With The Last Mortal Bond, author Brian Staveley closes the story of Adare, Kaden and Valyn, the three offspring of Sanlitun Malkeenian, former Emperor of the Annurian Empire.

Throughout the massive volumes of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, we have seen these three – Kaden, the chosen successor, training in mental and physical discipline with an ascetic sect of monks in a remote mountain retreat; Valyn, recruited to be a Kettral, the consummate warriors who ride on great birds of war; and Adare, the keenly intelligent and sagacious sister who chafes at being relegated to the sidelines of the Empire due to nothing more than the consequence of her sex – grow, struggle, and respond to adversity in a huge story spilling across a timeline filled with conflict, conquest and warfare meant to bring death to the gods that chose the Malkeenian line to rule.

The unexpected death of their father affected each of the siblings in very different ways, but all three of them had their previous lives completely shattered.  Author Brian Staveley – in his debut effort, no less! – does a masterful job in ushering each of them through the amazing trials that they have to face; each character going from a place of stability and utter chaos, and then growing from it and moving on, only to be thrown back into the fray again… and again.  Yet the characters continue to develop (not always positively), continue to move (not always forward), and continue to push the story to a stunningly apt conclusion.

I will admit that after the second book of the series, The Providence of Fire, I was a bit worried.  While it was a distinctive and powerful novel, it captured great cruelty and often focused on pain and appalling barbarism.  Kudos to author Staveley for treating even these sordid subjects and giving them – at times – a nuance and perspective that made them no less horrific, but perhaps more manageable to the tender mind of the reader.  Still, I had to wonder, would The Last Mortal Bond be just as gruesome?

The answer is no, and yes.  When the action called for violence, bloodshed, and the confrontation of one’s own inner darkness, it was handled head-on, with no holds barred; in other words, what we’ve come to expect from this robust series.  However, there were fewer instances of this hardcore harshness being central to the narrative as in the previous book.  More often, the struggle erupts within the individual, to determine what is right and what is wrong rendered against its price, how far one can go in losing oneself for the greater good – if it is possible to even know what truly is for the greater good, and in accepting that darkness of the soul might be an inevitable outcome when striving against the gods.  And always, the perseverance to continue on against impossible odds.

And it’s not just the three lead characters that have to face these trials.  There are a host of supporting characters that also at times take center stage, and their stories are just as taut and compelling.  In fact, I think my favorite character in the entire trilogy was fiery, red-headed Gwenna, the blunt, unsteady Kettral munitions specialist (part of Valyn’s “Wing”) who, through her own intense journey, bends without breaking, and ends up unknowingly becoming more than what she had ever hoped to achieve, not because she herself had the drive to become so but simply because there was no other option.

The third book in a any trilogy always labors under the need to close out the action of a sustained and multi-layered work, and this is perhaps where The Last Mortal Bond shines the brightest.  Employing both the slow burn and the quick flash to bring together and conclude all the shifting story lines, the final resolutions felt neither rushed nor plodding.  There were a few points dealing with character development that got a bit redundant, but given the gravity of the internal conflicts underway in these cases, they are a minor conceit.  While the ending – or rather, endings in a work this massive – may not all be deemed “satisfactory”, they are all appropriate and final.

The term “epic fantasy” evokes many specific notions, few of which can be applied to Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne (no elves!).  Regardless, his trilogy – The Emperor’s Blades, The Providence of Fire, and now The Last Mortal Bond – is a fantasy steeped in sharp edges, deep developments, and world changing actions on par with the very best of the genre.  And it is epic.  Oh, is it epic.  And it’s very, very good, worthy of the time and the effort it takes to fully experience it.

~ Sharon Browning

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