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The end is nigh, more or less...
on 3 September 2012
If you've made it this far into the series, you're unlikely to abandon it now, although a certain foot-tapping desire to see the finish line is to be expected. It offers the same reading enjoyment, lavish plotting, and writing excursiveness to which we've all become accustomed. Character development, except in the rare cases where new characters are introduced, is at a series low, although most of the action occurs from the viewpoints of well-known players. Reliance on song, poetry and the mysteries of the Old Religion seemed heavier to me than in other volumes but perhaps I'm just one of the few to whom they never held much appeal. Overall, it's recognizably Stirling doing what Stirling does well, and I enjoyed it.
This isn't clearly the end of the series' line, nor is it a particularly satisfying penultimate volume. In fact, it reads a bit like an either/or: while the Darth Vader-equivalents finished the novel spinning away in their off-page Tie fighters, the majority of the heroes are becoming more or less settled in for what appears to be their final rewards. Nothing is quite resolved but neither is there much suggestion that substantial developments await the characters we've now spent several thousand pages following. When I first put the book down, I assumed it was an author/publisher compromise: "I can't get the whole story into less than 900 pages" meets "This is a reasonable stopping point, so we'll do it in two volumes." Now I wonder - Stirling likes his multi-generational plotting; perhaps his plan is a Richard/Henry/Henry tale where the grandson is the one to clear the last of the mess his grandfather stepped in? This book works as well as a reboot point as it does anything else, so why not? Whatever the next step is intended to be, a more suspenseful ending (or set of endings, in a plot this wide) would have helped.
Highly recommended, but not, perhaps, as highly as the first four books of the series: tying up a sprawling mega-plot may be taxing Stirling's abilities slightly more than launching it did.