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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
Publisher: Tor (March 15, 2016)
Length: 640 pages
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.