The post contains reviews of the books in the Master of Hounds trilogy:
- Master of Hounds: Book 1 (#12)
- Master of Hounds: Book 2 (#13)
- Master of Hounds: Book 3 (#14)
Read my reviews of the previous books in the Eburosi Chronicles series:
Master of Hounds: Book 1 (Eburosi Chronicles #12)
I worried, at first, that I would have a difficult time getting into this book because it has been so long since I devoured the earlier installments in this series. However, this trilogy can easily stand on its own. Offhand references are made to events and issues recognizable as being from previous books, but they exist solidly in different countries and earlier times. The point of view character, Caius, did play a small part in the events of The Horse Mistress, and it was fascinating to read his interpretation of the events and how they shaped his future.
But Caius was a younger man then, at the earliest point in his career, and he’s all but retired now. I’ve always had a soft spot for cranky old soldiers, and Caius both fits the stereotype and breaks the mold at the same time. Everyone has their limits, and Caius finds his when ordered to assist in the execution of Decian. Little did he know how important the younger man would become to him personally as they fall into a physical relationship that both pretend isn’t anything more. The age-gap element is less interesting than the “opposites attract” dynamic. After all, Decian is so laid back that he might as well be horizontal, and Caius continues to cling to the ideals and duty to country he has upheld his entire life.
Steffan pulls more influence from the Greco-Roman empire for this slice of the world than just aspects of society and culture. Though Caius does his best to remain separate from the political maneuverings of his Emperor’s sons, his position in court puts him in a position of prestige and influence he does not know how to effectively wield. Political upheaval is imminent, with a side helping of religious conflict. Despite how he and Decian fall on opposites sides of the rhetorical argument on that front, their inconvenient love affair manages to take precedence.
Until it doesn’t. At first, Caius is willing to sacrifice his heart for Decian to reach safety. But when secrets are revealed, this book features a gut-wrenching dark moment. The cliffhanger is not stark, but it does prompt the reader to want to dive into book 2 immediately. This novel is very much the first act of a longer narrative rather than simply the first story.
Master of Hounds: Book 2 (Eburosi Chronicles #13)
The middle installment of this trilogy focuses much more on the plot and character development aspects of this story rather than the romance. Intrigue and danger abound as Caius realizes that someone from inside the palace is targeting his life and that the country’s current religious upheaval is entwined with the upcoming fight for the next heir. Caius spends most of this book tired, sick, injured, or all three as he deals with a complete shift of his worldview on multiple levels and is immediately thrust back in close quarters with the man he might be able to love—if that man didn’t represent so much of what Caius hates.
Except hate and fear are also closely entwined in Caius’ heart, and the longer he and Decian work together, the more he understands that perhaps his initial assumptions are flawed. On Decian’s side, he never asked for pretty much any of what now makes his life extraordinary, but at least he tries to accept it better than Caius. Throughout the action of this book, Steffan manages a realistic reconciliation arc between the two men. There is no immediate forgiveness, and sometimes the physical gets ahead of the mental, but a happily ever after might be in sight (if everyone survives that long).
Though some allies are collected on both sides of the greater divide, Caius remains very much on his own side. As tensions grow in the city, he’ll have to balance his duty with his desire for peace. The ending of this book does not end on an action-based cliffhanger but instead on a perfect twist that will have a tremendous impact on the conclusion of this epic trilogy.
Master of Hounds: Book 3 (Eburosi Chronicles #14)
The intensity of the political intrigue deepens in this trilogy’s final act. With all looking bleak, our heroes flee the city for tentative safety far from the Alyrion Empire before it implodes. Decian’s true identity only holds as much power as those around him give it, and too much is arrayed against him in the capital city. (Good thing he has no desire for even more power, especially since he has barely begun to be comfortable with his shapeshifting ability, the power he already has.)
Abandoning the capital grates against every shred of Caius’ loyalty and honor regarding the empire he has served his entire life. He is a true, traditional fantasy hero at heart, but even he finally acknowledges that if he can’t be a hero for his empire, he can be one for his chosen family. One of the aspects I loved about this trilogy is that Caius is also an AGING hero. Even if he wasn’t still recovering from multiple injuries, he’s not as young as he once was. However, this doesn’t stop him from offering his assistance (and his very life) to defend his loved ones.
In another twist on the traditional way this saga might have unfolded, Decian has no desire to embrace his secret identity until his rediscovered family urge him to be the figurehead of their cause. I enjoyed how the story unfolded, including the hidden army aspect of the proceedings, until everything going on disrupted the relationship between Decian and Caius. Both of them think they are doing what the other wants and their interactions during the leadup to the final conflict are gut-wrenching.
(Side note: I haven’t really mentioned them in my previous reviews, but I adored the secondary characters of Seleene and Zumi. Not only do they portray additional aspects of diversity that Steffan seems to effortlessly weave into her stories, but in the end, they’re basically the only rational ones in the whole bunch. Not bad for a couple of sex workers I originally assumed to be background color but who become integral members of the cast.)
Steffan does remind us that villains aren’t all one-dimensional when we eventually discover that we might have been wrong about who the real guilty party is behind the religious mayhem. The end of this book is not a straightforward result of actions taken by the characters, creating a tale as nontraditional as the cast. Sometimes the winning side has many shades of gray, and not everyone gets what they want.
However, in an excellent final twist, Caius and Decian don’t quite get to ride off into the sunset together. The expected ending wasn’t quite the final conflict, and through the last pages, I even double-checked that this was the final installment of this series and Steffan didn’t have a book 4 waiting in the wings. She did have a final surprise, though, in how Caius’s life finally comes full circle. With another few references to the previous series in the last chapter, I was as satisfied with how this trilogy wrapped up as Decian and Caius probably are when their dreams are fulfilled (even if the road getting there was pretty rocky).