The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own. But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all - Valyn, Adare, and Kaden - come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.
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Superb narration. The series began well, but I didn't enjoy book 3 very much, even though some scenes are wonderful, especially those involving the kettrals (the birds and the humans). Loved the scenes on the old training islands, and felt for the decisions Gwenna had to make.
Writing style: The author writes beautifully, but he includes far too much internal rumination and reflection for my taste. Thoughts slows the pace, especially when listening to audiobook (no matter how superb the narration). Some of the thoughts felt like short speeches about life, emotions, death, etc., expressed in an almost lyrical language.
Plot: Not complex. I liked the premise of the beleaguered emperor saving his best three blades for last, siblings trained — each one differently — to outwit the deadly foe on a different plane. Also I was greatly intrigued by the ancient Csestriim. I thought of "Battlestar Galactica" with the cold brilliant Cylons trying to annihilate the emotional humans. But I don't like plots that rely too much on the superhuman powers of maniacal mages and insane gods (we never learned how Ciena got into Triste). I didn't care for the exceedingly OTT grim-dark, grisly, gruesome, and depressing tone that consumed this book, with slaughter, mutilation, and masochistic sex.
Characterization: Characterization is a plus, as we see the "blades" develop across the trilogy. I followed Kaden with interest. His character allowed for some clever ideas about zen philosophy. I enjoyed the scenes in Rassambur and around the gates. I didn't much care for Adare, although she grew on me. I did like her councilor, Nira, but she could have contributed more. As for Valyn...hmmm. He's the one who truly caught my heart strings. I wanted the best for him but...
General Ran il Tornja the Csestriim (aka Tarn'is) made for a clever villain. I wondered if he was also known as Sos, in the prologue? Belendin was flat-out evil with no texture, similar to Long Fist and Meshkent (although some substance came from the god of pain).
The book ends well. The last chapters are vivid, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, followed by a promising epilogue set about a year in the future. I would have also liked to read more about the future of the Kettrals, especially Gwenna, Tallal, Anneck, Quick Jak, The Dawn King, Flea, etc.
If you've read the Providence of Fire (book 2 in this series) you're probably wondering whether you should throw a good credit after bad. I managed to overcome my revulsion for the last book and listen all the way through this one. It is not as bad as the last book; I would venture to say that it rises as far as "kind of okay."
I want to give Staveley some credit. The underlying story arc is pretty cool. There is some worthy intrigue. He has built some artifacts into this world that are really interesting particularly the Kettral soldiers and the Skullsworn. There is a hint of some good world building here.
From the last book to this one, Staveley has improved on his male characters. They're no longer crashing around incoherently doing things that don't make sense, even to them. In fact, he even does some really cool things with a few of them (which would take spoilers to explain).
His female characters are half-cooked. They are more like caricatures. Most of them are one dimensional. He makes some silly decisions when he tries to flesh them out. But worst of all is Adare. She doesn't make sense as a person. Staveley uses her to increase the drama artificially. She basically walks into each scene and does something really dramatic that screws everything up for other people to fix. Her motivations are all over the place. It is so prevalent that she bends the entire book around her idiotic misadventures. This makes is significantly less enjoyable.
Vance continues to give strong narration. I took points off as some of his accents are bleeding together.