Del Rey, 2015, 681 pages
The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty. Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all. But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart.
In the south, Inevera, Jardir's first wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing each other and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim on the throne. In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late. Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton - rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest. All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared....
I'm going to cruise through books four and five to finish this series. Ye gads, these books are long. And they're everything that's good and bad about epic fantasy — lots and lots and (sometimes tediously lots) of worldbuilding details, secondary characters, expanded abilities, battles, intrigues, and really, a story that could have been told in half as many pages.
In this demon-plagued world that is supposedly our world thousands of years later, the Krasians (fantasy not-Muslims) and the Greenlanders (fantasy not-Europeans) have gone from border skirmishes to all-out crusades, with the Krasians being the aggressors. As in the previous three books, we get many chapters devoted to Krasian characters and court politics, and they're meant to be sympathetic, except... they're not. Sure, everything they do is perfectly justifiable in their own eyes: their holy book (the not-Quran) says their god (not-Allah) wants them to unify all mankind in order to fight the final battle against the demons. That was Jardir's entire purpose in the previous book, rising to unify the Krasians and become their not-Mohammad.
Problem is, they're still a horde of brutal psychopaths whose version of "unifying" not-infidels is to rape, torture and enslave the fuck out of everyone who doesn't submit to them. (The ones who submit get tortured less.)
By comparison, the Greenlanders, who are just ordinary levels of pseudo-medieval barbaric, are far more sympathetic even when they're being dicks too, and every time there was a battle between the Krasians and the Greenlanders, I was totally rooting for the Greenlanders even when I knew they were going to lose.
While Leesha, sexiest buxom lass of the many sexy buxom lasses in the series, is getting wooed by the Duke (and by "wooed" I mean super-cringey sex scenes and dick double entendres) and trying to figure out how to spring on him that the child she's carrying is actually Jardir's, the other secondary characters engage in various intrigues, soap operas, assassination attempts, super-cringey sex scenes and dick double entendres, and occasional side quests to level up. Rojer the bard, who already has two Krasian sex-ninja daughters of Jardir as wives, adds to his harem (come on, author dude!), Abban, the fat "khaffit" merchant who is one of my favorite characters, keeps adding to his status and influence despite being considered less than a pig in Krasian society, and there are a lot of fight scenes involving increasingly advanced uses of magic, with accompanying almost Brandon Sanderson-levels of detail.
Meanwhile, Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, and Ahmann Jardir, both of whom have been called "The Deliverer," were seen at the end of the last book going over a cliff together in mortal combat. This turns out to have been a gambit by Arlen, who convinces Jardir that what they really need to do is capture a demon prince and make it take them to the Core, where they can finish off the corelings once and for all. This seems like the most important part of the story, since if they succeed, it will kind of make everything else going on almost irrelevant. Except their scheme takes up maybe 5% of the book, right at the beginning and the end. Their days of plotting are stretched out by the months of events happening in the rest of the book. I am not even sure how this lines up, chronologically.
So it's still an entertaining, if very long, series that almost has too many characters (a few less, by the end of this volume), but it's almost Extruded Fantasy Product that I'm finishing just because I'm already four volumes in and I've only got one to go.
Also by Peter Brett: My reviews of The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, and The Daylight War.
My complete list of book reviews.