Read my reviews of previous books in the Riehse Eshan series:
I first found this series in a bit of a sweet spot, soon after the third book was released. That meant I got to binge-read everything available and then wait in delicious anticipation for the final installment. I devoured this epic conclusion at the same rate I did the earlier books, which is really all the proof you need that this entire adventure is worth the time and effort. The finale especially lives up to the promise and intention of everything that comes before.
The highlight of this series for me is the main characters themselves. Mat and Ren follow a delicious enemies-to-lovers arc that begins with a mistaken identity and ends with the fates of three kingdoms on their shoulders. Through it all, they never lose anything about their incredibly well-crafted characterization that I enjoy. After all, idiots who know they are in love are still idiots in love, and while the hard-won dedication and love they have toward each other is sorted by the beginning of this book, neither is safe. That means we haven’t quite reached the happily ever after stage of this epic, and Blaike makes me continually question whether they will get there, even when I technically have the promise of genre expectation to rely on. I especially adore how absurd these men are toward each other to the bitter end, because love doesn’t require personality change. Though some edges are softened, the romance aspect of this series I adore would not have been the same had Mat and Ren shifted their intense dynamic too far into sweetness (except when appropriate and necessary, which is all the better for how rare it is).
Blaike pulls together multiple threads from earlier in the series to create the adventure the main characters undertake for this conclusion. Mat and Ren travel the breadth of the Riehse Eshan itself to follow their quest, and when I said I wasn’t always sure they’d make it, I mean that literally—there were definitely tears. Of course, even while everything was emotional and epic, it was also incredibly satisfying. Fitting in so many plot points and secondary characters who all deserved some sort of resolution could have made the story unwieldy, but the book itself is more than long enough for it. Blaike excellently balances that length with pacing, giving me everything I wanted from this story and some moments I didn’t realize I needed. Though it’s hard to go into detail this far into an intricate plot without verging into spoiler territory, I do want to note that the point at which Mat and Ren get separated isn’t necessarily the surprise, it is the allies they end up with at the time and how those relationships have shifted. In addition, the “magic” element of this world has been relatively low-key in comparison to the scale of the political machinations, but I was thoroughly impressed by how Blaike introduces a brand-new character toward the end that is a fascinating plot point rather than the deus ex machina he could have been.
The closest thing I have to a complaint about this book is that, at times, the internal narrative voice feels too “modern” for the historically inspired setting. That being said, it’s easy enough to counter this claim by noting that 1) Ren makes his own rules and 2) this is an indication of how well Blaike roots her dynamic characters in their setting while simultaneously making them accessible to contemporary readers. Despite the setting and how magic is blended into it, this series is also not a fairy tale. All of the characters, from unnamed secondaries to heroes Ren and Mat (and especially heroes Ren and Mat) get put through the wringer in ways that don’t always make this an easy read. Not everyone escapes unscathed for the perfect ending, but I was okay with this dose of realism even while I may have been messaging the author with a warning that I’d never forgive her if certain characters didn’t make it to the final page.
Even when it’s difficult, everything about this book is incredibly satisfying. Especially the grand finale, which Blaike mirrors excellently with the opening scene of this book. I enjoyed how the main characters developed and grew over the course of this phenomenal series while staying the same flawed men that I adore. After all, Mat basically saves three countries through sheer obstinacy. And Ren may save his own people with Mat’s support, but he does so with a grin and inappropriate commentary all the while. I already look forward to the follow-up novella planned in this world, because I’m certainly not done with these men yet. I’m not sure I ever will be.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.