My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This trilogy is definitely turning out to be one of those 1 book broken up into 3 trilogies than a series of stories following the main characters. The last book was a slightly cleaner break, but still ended with a lot still unresolved. This one, on the other hand, ends on a cliffhanger….well on a cliff….a mountain. Almost nothing is resolved in this book. Although one of the plots was, thankfully, resolved; that’s a good thing because I don’t think the protagonist involved in that plot could take much more.
As the middle of a narrative, it’s hard to write a review that isn’t spoiler-filled, but I’d like to focus on a few things that I think this book does very well compared to a lot of other fantasy and military fiction I’ve read. First of all, I like that this book deals with PTSD in more of a realistic way than most fiction. It’s not normal to just kill lots of others and get through that trauma without issues. I don’t know what happened in the Greek and Roman times, but in more modern times, most men (and, later on, women) haven’t had an easy time of it. One of the ways to cope is with drugs and McClellan has a character spend time in an period-appropriate fantasy equivalent of an opium den. I don’t think all our media needs necessarily have all the characters get shell-shocked, but having some more representation is a good thing. If anything else, it tempers some of the “excitement” that can end up being glorification of violence.
Second, I think McClellan does a good job of making use of a world that doesn’t have cell phones or even telegraph lines. A lot of the characters find themselves in plots that wouldn’t happen if everyone had perfect knowledge of what was happening around the world. It was quite the reminder of how spoiled we’ve become. (And makes me think of this article from 9 years ago about 10 classic Seinfeld episodes that fall apart if they have cell phones: https://gizmodo.com/10-classic-seinfe…)
Finally, a topic that has been discussed over the past 10 years (or more?) – rape narratives. There’s a tension in writing a violent narrative. On the one hand, rape is a real thing that happens to real people (both men and women) and if you see the phrase ” _____ and pillage” you know what the first word is. It’s a real issue during wars – both ancient and modern. But, on the other hand, writers have been so lazy for so long: Does your Hero need a reason to be moved to action? Rape or Kill his significant other! (see women in fridges: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph…) I *think* McClelland does a good job balancing things across these two entries in the trilogy. It’s a real threat that a few of the women characters deal with (including wondering if the cost of being helped is an expectation to bed the helper), but it’s not something that ends up happening. I think that keeps it realistic while not having to resort to tired tropes or retraumatize readers who may have gone through that in real life. I could be way off base here, but compared to other similar situations I’ve read in other books where the writers took the lazy out, I prefer this way.
Overall, McClellan continues an exciting war narrative in a world full of magic that is in a period of transition from monarchy to some kind of Republic or Democracy.
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