Del Rey, 2017, 781 pages
For time out of mind, bloodthirsty demons have stalked the night, culling the human race to scattered remnants dependent on half-forgotten magics to protect them. Then two heroes arose - men as close as brothers, yet divided by bitter betrayal.
Arlen Bales became known as the Warded Man, tattooed head to toe with powerful magic symbols that enable him to fight demons in hand-to-hand combat-and emerge victorious. Jardir, armed with magically warded weapons, called himself the Deliverer, a figure prophesied to unite humanity and lead them to triumph in Sharak Ka - the final war against demonkind.
But in their efforts to bring the war to the demons, Arlen and Jardir have set something in motion that may prove the end of everything they hold dear - a Swarm. Now the war is at hand and humanity cannot hope to win it unless Arlen and Jardir, with the help of Arlen's wife, Renna, can bend a captured demon prince to their will and force the devious creature to lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an inexhaustible army.
Trusting their closest confidantes, Leesha, Inevera, Ragen, and Elissa, to rally the fractious people of the Free Cities and lead them against the Swarm, Arlen, Renna, and Jardir set out on a desperate quest into the darkest depths of evil - from which none of them expects to return alive.
I plowed through the final volume in the Demon Cycle to see if anything innovative or original happened, but it was basically a big boss battle followed by a setting reset. The main Big Bad has been defeated, but there are still some demons around, the Krasians and the Greenlanders are at peace for the moment but haven't exactly reconciled the fact that they've spent thousands of years as two rival civilizations with rival religions, and no doubt the author can come up with a plot seed to bring back another demonic Big Bad to threaten humanity with.
As with the previous volume, there are basically two parallel story lines running through The Core. Leesha Paper, who's gone from 0-level village hottie in book one to 12th level Witch (with the title of a Duchess after shagging all the most important men in the series) and her allies are trying to defend mankind in the final battle against the corelings, with a bunch of Krasians running around being not much better than the demons. Meanwhile, Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir, the two so-called "Deliverers," are leading their wives and other miscellaneous NPCs down into the Core, guided by a captive demon prince, to confront the demon queen for the actual battle that will resolve Sharak Ka.
So, on the plus side, if you like lots of action, well, there is a lot of action. Lots and lots of magic-powered displays of martial might as Arlen and Jardir mow down hordes of increasingly powerful demons, along with their female companions who have a convenient habit of frequently needing to take their clothes off.
Like, come on, author dude. The entire series has had a bit of a wanky vibe to it, but the number of lines about "emptying his seedpods" seemed to double in this book. Please, Mr. Brett, never write mother-daughter dialog again. The way he writes about women, sex, and biological functions in previous books made me think the pregnancy and delivery scenes were going to be cringe-worthy, and I was not wrong. Also, there are entire chapters that are basically rape and torture porn. Abban, who used to be one of my favorite characters, gets the worst of it, but what he did to a hapless slave whose only purpose in the story was to suffer made him pretty much irredeemable in my opinion. There's a whole lotta sexy ninja-witches from a culture where women are supposed to wear burkas who still end up being scantily clad much of the time, and when they're not, there's a whole lotta women with babies in this book flashing titties at blushing male companions. I think the author thinks this is charming.
Also, there's a eunuch army pissing themselves in Rape Central Castle Torturevania, and a hermaphrodite baby for whothefuckknowswhy.
Ultimately, this was a fairly forgettable series that started out strong with the worldbuilding, a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons, where the survival of mankind is hanging by a thread, but as the characters all continued to level up to nearly godlike power levels, it ended with a series of grand magical feats and mass skirmishes, a few predictable major character deaths, and a bunch of shitty people who never really got what was coming to them and are probably going to have a fight a war in the sequel series to settle things.
I don't regret starting this series, or finishing it, but it's a hell of an investment in time for a fairly mediocre finish. The last chapter is literally all the bad-ass female characters who've ruled kingdoms, led armies, and fought demon queens, sitting around bitching about childrearing.
Also by Peter Brett: My reviews of The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War, and The Skull Throne.
My complete list of book reviews.