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Thrilling conclusion to a superior series!
on 11 August 2012
Okay, label me baffled. Thoroughly so. . .
To my uttermost dismay, C. S. Friedman's The Magister trilogy remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. How the heck a quality series by the bestselling writer who brought us the fan-favorite The Coldfire trilogy could remain so underrated for the last couple of years, I think I'll never know.
And yet, for some reason, both Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath flew so low under the radar that it appears that no one but a selected few have read these novels. Problem is, this is Celia S. Friedman writing at the top of her game. Indeed, the first two installments of series raised the bar to such heights that I felt that, should the final volume live up to my lofty expectations, we might soon refer to The Coldfire trilogy as the author's other fantasy series.
Question was, could Legacy of Kings possibly live up to the promise shown by its two predecessors? Well, let me just tell you that Friedman not only delivered, she hit this one right out of the park. Hands down, Legacy of Kings is definitely one of the best speculative fiction titles of the year! The author brings this series to a close with panache, demonstrating yet again that she deserves her place among the most talented -- and underestimated -- fantasy authors writing today.
Here's the blurb:
What will future minstrels sing of the days leading up to the final battle?
They will sing of the Souleaters with their stained-glass wings, who feasted upon the life-essence of mankind and brought down the First Age of Kings. And of the army of martyrs that gathered to fight them, led by the world's last surviving witches. By fire and faith they herded the great beasts into an arctic prison, where the incessant cold and long winter's darkness would rob them of strength, and hopefully of life. And the gods themselves struck the earth with great Spears, it was said, erecting a barrier born of their Wrath which would hold any surviving Souleaters prisoner until the end of time. For forty generations the Wrath held strong, so that the Second Age of Kings could thrive. But it was not truly a divine creation, merely a construct of witches, and when it finally faltered the Souleaters began their invasion.
They will sing of the Magisters, undying sorcerers who wielded a power that seemed without limit, and of how they were bound by their Law to the fates of mortal men. But no minstrel will sing of the secret that lay at the heart of that dark brotherhood, for no mortal man who learned the truth would be allowed to live. The Magisters fueled their sorcery with the life-essence of human consorts, offering up the death of innocents to assure their own immortality. Perhaps that practice was what corrupted their spirits, so that they became innately hostile to their own kind. . .or perhaps there was another cause. Colivar alone seemed to know the truth, but even his most ancient and determined rival Ramirus had not yet been able to pry that information out of him.
They will sing of Kamala, a red-headed child destined for poverty and abuse in the slums of Gansang, who defied the fates and became the first female to learn the art of true sorcery. But her accidental murder of Magister Raven broke the brotherhood's most sacred Law, and even her reclusive mentor Ethanus dared not give her shelter any longer. Forced to masquerade as a witch, she traveled the world in search of some knowledge or artifact that she might barter for her safety, so that she could bear the title of Magister openly and claim her proper place in the brotherhood of sorcerers.
They will sing of Danton Aurelius, who ruled the High Kingdom with an iron fist until the traitor Kostas brought him down. They will craft lamentations for the two young princes who died alongside their father, even as they celebrate the courage of Queen Gwynofar in avenging her husband's death. Alas, it was not to be the end of her trials. For when prophecy summoned her to Alkali to search for the Throne of Tears, an ancient artifact that would awaken the lyr bloodline to its full mystical potential, the gods demanded her unborn child in sacrifice, and later her beloved half-brother, Rhys.
They will sing of the Witch-Queen Siderea Aminestas, mistress of Magisters and consort to kings, whom the sorcerers abandoned when her usefulness ended. And of the Souleater who saved her life, at the cost of her human soul. Vengeance burned bright in her heart the day she fled Sankara on the back of her jewel-winged consort, seeking a land where she could plant the seeds of a new and terrible empire.
They will sing of Salvator, third son of Danton Aurelius, who set aside the vows of a Penitent monk to inherit his father's throne, rejecting the power and the protection of the Magisters in the name of his faith. Songs will be crafted to tell how he was tested by demons, doubt, and the Witch-Queen herself, even while the leaders of his Church argued over how he might best be manipulated to serve their political interests.
And last of all they will sing of the confrontation that was still to come, in which fate of the Second Age of Kings -- and all of mankind -- would be decided. And those who hear their songs will wonder whether a prince-turned-monk-turned-king could really save the world, when the god that he worshiped might have been the one who called for its destruction in the first place.
As intriguing and rich in details as its predecessors, the worldbuilding aspect makes Legacy of Kings resound with depth. Hard to believe that Friedman could tie all the loose ends in a single book, but she does it with flair as she reveals how every single thread from the previous two volumes are all part of a grand tapestry of plotlines woven together. Secrets about the Souleaters, the Magisters and their origins, the lyr blood, the Wrath and those who live beyond, Colivar's past, Kamala's true nature, the Penitents, and many other unearthed truths are revealed as the story progresses, raising the bar higher and higher as the plot moves forward toward Friedman's most satisfying and rewarding finale to date.
The characterization is head and shoulders above what currently the norm in the genre these days. Legacy of Kings features a great balance between various POV characters, allowing the readers to follow unfolding events through the eyes and perceptions of a disparate groups of protagonists. I felt that the balance achieved in Wings of Wrath was close to perfection, yet that of Legacy of Kings is even better. Believe me when I say that it doesn't get much better than this! Hence, the narrative shifts through the POVs of Kamala, Colivar, Queen Gwynofar, Ramirus, Salvator, first Penitent king, and the Witch-Queen Siderea. Most of these characters were already well-defined, but Friedman outdid herself while fleshing them out even more in this final installment. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of secondary characters that nevertheless play an important role in the bigger scheme of things. I don't that there is a single scene I would have cut out from this novel.
C. S. Friedman has that damnable tendency to keep you begging for more, making many of her books true page-turners. With all the key elements established in Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath, Legacy of Kings is the culmination of all those various storylines coming together at last. Tightly focused in terms of plot, Friedman's endgame might be her best paced novel yet. Events and revelations keep the story moving at a brisk pace, forcing you to devour chapters after chapters. Still, even though the rhythm is fluid from start to finish, a number of poignant moments manage to get to you when you least expect it.
This is likely C. S. Friedman's best work to date. And considering that this woman wrote the celebrated Coldfire trilogy, that's really saying something. But as far as worldbuilding, plot, characterization, and pace are concerned, The Magister trilogy is superior to the Coldfire trilogy. Indeed, her latest series is more ambitious and features a more tightly plotted overall story arc and an almost flawless execution throughout. I believe that the only thing that will always set The Coldfire trilogy apart from most of its peers is the relationship between Gerald Tarrant and Damien Vryce, two characters that will probably live on in our collective memories for years and years. Most authors will never create protagonists which will somehow manage to capture the imagination the way these two have. So it would be unfair to expect Friedman to somehow find a way to do it again. Hence, though there are many memorable characters populating The Magister trilogy, none of them will live on the way Gerald Tarrant has in the two decades since Black Sun Rising was published. Having said that, in every other facet, even the characterization taken as a whole, The Magister trilogy is everything The Coldfire trilogy was, and then some!
While everyone is taking about Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and many others, C. S. Friedman wrote one of the very best -- and perhaps the best -- fantasy series of the new millennium. Maybe it's time more people give it a shot. . . Just saying. . .
Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear will by far be the most popular Daw title of 2011. But believe you me: it won't be the best. Legacy of Kings and its two predecessors deserve the highest possible recommendation.
Legacy of Kings delivers on basically all levels. It will definitely be one of the fantasy novels to read this year.