Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
Publisher: Tor (March 15, 2016)
Length: 640 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Wow! What a long way these characters have come since The Emperor’s Blades, and also what great strides Brian Staveley has made as a writer and storyteller. Epic does not even begin to describe this dramatic third and final installment in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, which brings everyone back together for one explosive finale.
Things sure weren’t looking too good for the three imperial siblings, last we left them at the end of The Providence of Fire. (Warning! Possible spoilers ahead for the first two books if you haven’t read them yet!) Kaden, the heir who was set to inherit the throne after the assassination of his father Emperor Sanlitun, has decided instead to dissolve his rule, creating a republic instead. The problem? None of his counselors can set their ambitions and differences aside to work together. Meanwhile, the empire is crumbling at the edges and hordes of invaders are marching their way towards the capital. Adare has no choice but to rely on her former-lover-turned-nemesis General Ran il Tornja to hold off the Urghul, who are now being led by a powerful and cruel leach. And finally, there’s Valyn, who probably has it worst of all. Betrayed, blinded, and thrown from a tower, he was left for dead to fend for himself in the Urghul-infested wilderness.
I was also happy to see Gwenna return with her own POV chapters. She was one of the best surprises in the previous book, and she’s back now to show the Malkeenians how to get shit done. If you love what you see on this book’s insanely gorgeous cover, then you most definitely will not be disappointed. There is plenty of Kettral action in here, and with Valyn lost to the wing, things have gotten even more intense now that Gwenna has assumed the leadership. She more than proves her strength and capability in this novel, taking back the order and rebuilding its ranks with only a group of washouts and rejects at her command.
Indeed, without Gwenna, this book would have been darker and even more despairing. “Broken” is the theme for The Last Mortal Bond, with the three royal children floundering in their own respective ocean of problems. Talk about your dysfunctional family. Ever since the first book, I’ve been intrigued by the dynamics between Adare, Kaden and Valyn, and even though Emperor Sanlitun is dead and barely appears in this series except in memories and flashbacks, it’s still stunning to see how his choices for his children have had such profound effects on their lives and on their relationships with each other. With each of them heading in their own direction—and with barely a shred of trust between them—anything could happen at all. And while things did not go the way I expected, the siblings’ long awaited reunion in this final novel is surely not to be missed.
It’s also very interesting when I reflect upon how my feelings for these characters have changed over the course of the trilogy. Brian Staveley has pushed them all to their limits, forcing them into difficult situations where they have to make some tough decisions, and not all of them lead to positive results. Adare really stepped up in the last book, and I was glad to see her carry her role into the events of this one. However, a sheltered lifetime within the palace walls has certainly put her at a disadvantage, and it shows. At times, she frustrated me with her naiveté, but I also felt a deeper sympathy for her when it came to the matter of her infant son. Being a new mother is terrifying enough, but she also had to do it in the middle of a war with a target on her back.
At the very least though, I found Adare’s chapters to be a lot more compelling than her brothers’. As a character, Kaden has always felt distant to me because of his tendency to push aside all emotion, but this book saw him slipping even further away. Meanwhile, Valyn had retreated into the darkness to wallow in his self-pity, yet somehow still managed to emerge as a kind of tortured hero. Clearly, Sanlitun’s children have not benefited too much from the paths he has chosen for them. Hands down, the indisputable winner here was Gwenna, who ended up stealing the show with her brilliant side plot and incredible character growth. Please, Mr. Staveley, if you ever decide to revisit this world, a series or even a one-off tale about Gwenna and the Kettral would make my dream come true!
As for the story itself, we all know what a tricky thing it is to wrap up an epic fantasy series, but Staveley takes to it so naturally that it’s hard to believe this is his debut trilogy. He never once loses sight of his goals and is always in control, driving the plot forward so that the pacing never falters even through the frequent perspective changes. Amazingly, each character arc has its own rising action and climax, and yet all four POVs end up come together for a seamless, spectacular conclusion in the final pages.
For readers of epic fantasy and fans of complex worlds and characters, I highly recommend checking out this series. Reading these books and discovering Brian Staveley’s talent has been an immense pleasure and delight; I am only sad that the trilogy is over now.
Review of The Emperor’s Blades (Book 1)
Review of The Providence of Fire (Book 2)
Guest Post: “The Limits of Empathy; or Macbeth is an Asshole” by Brian Staveley
Love, love, LOVE Gwenna in this one!! It was nice to see a character grow under duress instead of becoming 10 types of broken (*couch*Valyn*cough*).
It’s great taht you had the POV of a character you liked like that! I would be anxious to have many different ones but it sounds well handled
I have to read this one one! I can’t wait
So I didn’t read read this review – just first and last paragraph – because I don’t want the tiniest hint of a spoiler! But I’m currently reading Providence of Fire right now, so I can be ready for Brian’s singing in a couple weeks. And I am very happy to see that you have this a 4 star 🙂
brianstaveley/r/Fantasy Best of 2014 Winner, AMA Author Brian Staveley 24 points 16 days ago
Hi Folks– Just noticed the question here. While The Last Mortal Bond is certainly an end to this trilogy, I have signed on with Tor for four more books (as noted here), and at least some of these will take place in the same world. A lot of characters are dead by the end of TLMB, but some key players are still alive, and, unfortunately for them, their lives don’t look to be filled with peace, leisure, and long games of bocce. The book I’m working on now follows a secondary character from the first trilogy, someone who’s been very popular with readers. I’m having a blast with it.
Aww, there’s always that horrible deflated balloon feeling when you finally finish a series that you’ve enjoyed – maybe that’s why I have so many unfinished series!
It’s good that you really enjoyed it right to the conclusion though – very satisfying.
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The cover is really gorgeous. I should check this series out, I feel like I don’t read enough fantasy’s. I tend to gravitate more toward urban fantasies.
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I’m really surprised you gave THE LAST MORTAL BOND only four stars. I have given each one of the books in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 5 stars on Goodreads and Staveley has jumped to the top of my list of authors (and my favorite genres are scifi/space opera and mystery/thriller with fantasy usually in 3rd place).
Anyway, I’m sure you have heard by now that Brian Staveley has a book coming out next year (April 2017) called SKULLSWORN which follows a young Pyrre (who was one of my favorite characters in the books as well). Something about she has to kill 10 people in 30 days, including one of whom she loves as part of her initiation rites into the Deathcult.
I actually liked Kaden as my favorite character and was *gutted* by his character arc in the trilogy. Adare’s story arc got stronger and stronger as the series progressed and I thought Valyn went in the opposite direction–the masochistic sex with Huutsuu was a bridge too far for me LOL. But really, Book 3 is all about Gwenna. The breakout star of the series. She was sort of just a member of the pack in the first two books as one of “Valyn’s Wing” but in Book 3 she simply rules!
I agree that if Staveley is going to do standalone books about the other characters The Flea would be on my list, but so would Rampuri Tan and the ancient twin leaches. Of course Gwenna, but that would probably be a book in a post-trilogy era, I think it would be difficult to tell her pre-trilogy story because she would not YET be awesome.