Brian Ruckley's dark, gritty, and unforgiving style may not be to everyone's liking, but I quite enjoyed both Winterbirth and Bloodheir. As a matter of fact, I've been eagerly looking forward to read the final chapter in The Godless World trilogy for months. The ending of the second volume set the stage for what promised to be a great finale, and the author doesn't disappoint!
The True Bloods have been humbled by the inexorable advance of the armies of the Black Road. Their forces have been crushed, and it seems that nothing can stop the invaders from marching south toward Vaymouth. However, now under the control of Aeglyss the na'kyrim, the merciless armies of the Black Road are in total disarray. As Aeglyss falls deeper and deeper into madness, the taint he leaves upon the Shared spreads chaos and mindless violence throughout the land. This despondent pall gradually unravels the fabric of society, and it starts to look as though the entire world is in the throes of insanity. Now Aeglyss' creature, the Shadowhand returns to Vaymouth to plant seeds of betrayal and destruction in the city of the Thane of Thanes himself. Filled with a passionate desire to avenge the death of his sister, Kanin of the Horin-Gyre Blood plots a desperate strike against the mad half-breed whose corruption could well annihilate their world. And Orisian, fallen Thane, along with a handful of companions, embarks on a journey that will lead him toward a confrontation with the na'kyrim before it's too late.
Although its two predecessors were by no means upbeat and joyful affairs, Fall of Thanes is by far Ruckley's darkest work to date. Aeglyss' fall into insanity and the ripples it causes in every single storyline creates an ever-present disconsolate pall overshadowing every aspect of this tale, which at times make for a depressing read. Never dull or boring, mind you, just sombre and filled with melancholy throughout. Readers who like to see the forces of good overcoming mighty odds to triumph at the end of the day should look elsewhere. Happy endings are clearly not Brian Ruckley's forte.
The pace moves a bit more briskly in this final volume. The build-up created by the first two volumes now complete, Ruckley weaves the various plotlines together, letting the tension escalate as the disparate protagonists are moving toward the finale.
Once more, I found that the characterization was the author's most improved aspect of Fall of Thanes. I particularly enjoyed Ruckley's depiction of both Kanin and Orisian's downward spiral into despair. The same can be said of the Inkallim struggle against Ragnor oc Gyre in the lands of the Black Road. Theor and Nyve turned out to be much more interesting than I ever thought they would be. In the lands of the True Bloods, the Inkallim Cannek and especially Eska played bigger roles than anticipated. A nut job through and through, Aeglyss is more unpredictable than ever before, and his madness touches everyone he comes in contact with. Sadly, this means that Shraeve lost most of the appeal that made her such a fascinating character in the previous novels. Ditto for Mordyn Jerain, the Shadowhand. On the other hand, there were some surprising developments with Yvane, Ess'yr, and Varryn.
I'm always amazed by how ruthless Brian Ruckley can be. We all know that the author is not averse to killing major characters. But the body count in this one would even give George R. R. Martin pause.
Dark, bloody, depressing, uncompromising, with a poignant ending that should satisfy most fans and characters that stay true to themselves till the very end, Fall of Thanes is an impressive conclusion to what is definitely one of the best fantasy series of the new millennium.
The final verdict: 8.75/10