Tor Teen, 2021, 304 pages
This is Django Wexler's third book in the cinematic fantasy Wells of Sorcery Trilogy featuring a fierce young woman skilled in the art of combat magic on an epic mission to steal a ghost ship.
Isoka has done the impossible - she's captured the ghost ship Soliton.
With her crew of mage-bloods, including the love of her life, Princess Meroe, Isoka returns to the empire that sent her on her deadly mission. She's ready to hand over the ghost ship as ransom for her sister Tori's life but arrives to find her home city under siege - and Tori at the helm of a rebellion.
Neither Isoka's mastery of combat magic nor Tori's proficiency with mind control could have prepared them for the feelings their reunion surfaces. But they're soon drawn back into the rebels fight to free the city that almost killed them.
I plowed through this trilogy to see how it ends, so I cannot bash the author or the books too hard: evidently they were entertaining enough to keep me reading.
Django Wexler reminds me a lot of Brandon Sanderson. I said this in my first review, because of the worldbuilding, and I'll say it again. There's a lot of magic that could only have been created by someone who spent his formative years playing Dungeons & Dragons. There's a lot of plotting that comes straight out of every fantasy author's writing advice blog. This trilogy is fine, it gives us characters who are interestingly "diverse" in both the literary and the modern woke sense, and it delivers a lot of action-packed who's got the biggest schwartz? magic duels and boss fights. It ends with a revolution and a fence-sitting emperor who's been kind of a lamb but steps up and briefly becomes a lion.
So basically everything goes back to the status quo, except the Emperor under whom the Blessed Empire had become a crapsack dystopia for the poor turns out to be a nice guy, so maybe now that he's no longer under the thumb of his evil, Machiavellian spymaster, he might make things less bad, kind of?
There was a long dialog in the middle, between Tori, the youngest of our two teen protagonists, and His Majesty, in which he explains his inaction and his hesitancy. Basically, other emperors have tried to change things and made a mess of things. The poor will always be with us. The world sucks and no man, not even an emperor, can make it stop sucking. Etc.
Tori quite rightly calls bullshit on this, but nonetheless, she and her older sister, Isoka, seem fairly content to let things go back to "normal" once the bad guy who put them in their predicament in the first place is taken care of. The noble houses are still in charge, the Emperor is still on the throne, presumably some of the evil practices that have been called out will be ended, but when Tori and Isoka sail off into the sunset, I was left thinking, "Lamest. Revolution. Ever."
Isoka and Tori both did some pretty terrible things in the previous two books. They did those things under duress, but they did them, and while they spend much of this book feeling bad about it (Tori much more than Isoka), there's never any true atonement. They basically killed off extras with justifications that were no better than the Emperor's.
This is a tidy YA fantasy package with a story that wraps up with some Sandersonesque magical tricks and the dramatic arrival of cavalries to turn the tide, and just enough discreet fade-to-black sex to get teen readers flushed and bothered.
It was okay.
Also by Django Wexler: My reviews of Ship of Smoke and Steel and City of Stone and Silence.
My complete list of book reviews.