With these reviews a circle closes.
Acacia was one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog (in actual fact, the second book) and it definitely feels as if I’ve gone on a long, tempestuous, thrilling and ultimately fully rewarding journey with not only the readers who’s also enjoyed David’s Epic Fantasy trilogy buy have journeyed with David as he brought us this trilogy. (You can also read my 2008 interview with David here.)
And with announcements about the future of this blog on the way it’s only fitting that I post the reviews of these titles – as I said, a circle closes.
Book 1 (my review here, in case you’ve not yet read it) set up what promised to be a truly epic story – a promise which The Other Lands and The Sacred Band fulfilled wonderfully.
The Other Lands
The novel doesn’t open, thankfully, immediately after the events of Acacia – a risk on David’s part, since we were met by characters who were subtly different from when me were introduced to them in Acacia, but a risk that paid off. Not only did David manage to show and explain how the characters had grown since I last read about them, but he also managed to set in motion the new cycles of growth and change that needed to happen to push not only the characters but the plot forward. After all, in Acacia we were shown a small part (yet a very important part) of the world David created – books 2 and 3 needed to show more of this world, and did.
In book 1 David also took the risk of removing one of the most promising and important characters of the trilogy, the effects of which are felt throughout book 2, from the normal man on the street right up to the sister who had to try and manage the thrust into the highest position of leadership. I was really surprised at this character’s return and was worried (I’ll admit) at what effect it would have on the rest of the cast, but David handled this all beautifully.
The same can be said of many of the characters in the book – Corrin Akaran terrified me at the end of Acacia, and she continued to evolve in The Other Lands – I couldn’t help but compare her to Cersei Lannister, and to be honest, I don’t know who would come out on top if the two had to clash. Mena’s search for her place in the world (other than being an Akaran and the embodiment of a goddess) was heartfelt and beautiful, and I loved Dariel’s progression in the book, too. Each of the siblings reacted to the previous book’s events in ways that were both true to themselves (and to what they had survived) and in ways that echoed with me – one of the ways that we live through characters in novels, though they may be set in Fantasy-worlds) is through the character’s humanity and the author’s ability to evoke sympathy and empathy, something that David succeeded massively at in The Other Lands.
And the world that David created expands – Dariel travels to The Other Lands and I loved the strangeness, intensity and brutality of this place. Not only was it an excellent crucible to test and temper Dariel, but a way to explore a world intimately linked to the Known World but also brazenly different – it was handled and explained so well that I’m unable to decide which place is better.
The build towards the novel’s climax was suitably inexorable and tension-filled – the menace was palpable, leading me to not even want to guess at the conclusion in Book 3; the ‘good guys’ just seemed so overwhelmed that I had no idea how they were going to survive or triumpf – a very good thing to keep readers hooked and worrying.
All things considered, The Other Lands was an excellent bridging novel between the beginning of the trilogy and its conclusion in that it wasn’t only a bridging novel: it was a tale all its own, carrying forward some of the arcs (plot- and character-wise) from Book 1, creating satisfying new arcs, and leaving mysteries for The Sacred Band to explain. It’s the kind of novel that stands above most of the other Epic Fantasy novels on the shelves today – not least because of David’s Historical Fiction background, and shows that David is not only an author who can build convincing worlds but also a writer who excels at telling the all-important human stories within his beautiful and fantastical canvas. Highly recommended!
9 / 10
The Sacred Band
And now we come to what, especially in Epic Fantasy, is considered the make-or-break volume in a trilogy: the final book.
The first thing I’ll say is that I was pleasantly misled by the wonderful cover – and that David seems to have had the foresight to write a tale that not only explained the cover but then also surprised us with that explanation. Too many times a novel (especially Fantasy and its attendant sub-genres) are judged by the covers – whether in the stores before purchase or after putting the book down, and its rare that a cover manages to suit the novel (notice the plethora of Character-focused covers nowadays), so when an author manages to write a novel that gives the prospective reader an idea of what is awaiting him or her in the book -without having any directing input in the creation of the cover- that’s a well-done thing indeed. I know that David wrote the book first, believe me, but I truly like the cover for The Sacred Band because of the many layers of stories in the cover, all present in the novel. So, (whoever you are because I just can’t seem to find info on the artist / designer of the cover), well done, awesome cover!
Onto the meat and mead of the novel:
After the end of The Other Lands only one thing was for sure – the shit was going to hit the fan. David had manoeuvred his characters to where they needed to be and this invariably left them in places that were incredibly dangerous – Corrin in the Known World, having to prepare for a massive war, Mena in the ice trying to prepare herself for the coming carnage and Dariel in the Other Lands, facing not only hostile natives but approaching overlords…
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think David will be able to pull this climax off. Why? Well, because of the threats facing the Akaran siblings and the Known World. I’ve read another book recently where the threat is just so massive that it couldn’t really be dealt with, and as I was feverishly plowing through The Sacred Band I was genuinely worried (readers of the novels will know what threats I’m talking about – I’d rather not spoil it for those that haven’t), but David not only managed to bring the climax, but also to bring it in a manner that was both satisfying and true to the characters and the story-arc they were part of. A tall order, indeed, when the characters didn’t suffer because of it – and neither did the tension, the action, the menace, the humanity. The novel and the series doesn’t end the way you think it will, I guarantee it – but the ending, and where this ending leaves the characters and the world, is immensely satisfying.
Why am I not giving you any actual detail about the book itself, the characters, etc.? Well, to do so would spoil much of what is set up in Book 2 and all of what happens in The Sacred Band. I felt the ending was perfect and definitely consider it the most important part of the series – not because it should be but because it brings full-circle and basically explains the heart of what David was doing in this trilogy. More than that I don’t feel I should have to say – it’s an incredible book and an incredible trilogy, definitely one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
9 / 10
Trilogy Rating: 9 / 10
And do head over and check out David’s website – you can read excerpts from the novels, there are order-links, and David also runs a blog there. In case you didn’t know, David has also written:
and Pride of Carthage.
David’s next novel will focus on telling the story of Spartacus.
Until next time,
UPDATE: Thanks to fellow reader Andre Philander, the guy responsible for The Sacred Band’s awesome cover is Paul A Romano. Thanks Andre!
Final UPDATE: It appears Andre made a mistake and that Wikipedia is also wrong: the true artist is this man – and he work is AWESOME.