Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley is the final volume in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. In my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, I dig into how I felt uninspired because it was about a fight for the status quo, there was no progress, nothing new had been added. Yes, I enjoyed the book because Staveley is an excellent story teller, the book was exciting, and so well paced that I always needed to know what would happen next. Ultimately, that was enough to encourage me to read the sequel.

In my review of The Providence of Fire, I got excited. The Emperor’s Blades was a set-up, and big things happened in book 2. Huge I tell you. There are progressive ideas – thoughts of moving things forward. And it was so well wrapped together, that it was simply impossible to tell who was bad and who was good. Where was it all going to go? There were so many possibilities.

Of course, I had my hopes and ideas of where it was going. They were some really good ideas. They built on the ambiguity of book 2, explored some the more interesting (to me) concepts developed in The Providence of Fire. I was certain Staveley was with me in this, that he was going to pluck these ideas right out of my head, run with them, and then turn them around a few times to put some real sting into it.

But….Staveley wasn’t with me, he had ideas all his own. Yes, they are good ideas – there’s excitement, the stakes are upped even further, more complications added, and some really great fighting and sacrifice, and an unexpected character (Gwenna) leaps up and steals the whole show.

But…I wanted to see my ideas. And so I was disappointed. Much of what excited me about The Providence of Fire was abandoned in The Last Mortal Bond – the empire was not on a progressive path of improvement. In the end…we just got the status quo again. And that pissed me off – I’m just tired of epic fantasy that leaves us with the status quo. Where the people aren’t better off and there isn’t really hope that things have changed a bit. Just a bunch of big battles, lots of death, young leaders learn valuable lessons, the meaning of life is love, blah, blah, blah, and…the same old shit goes on into the future.

I had other ideas too – damn good ones. Of how the gods interacted with humanity and the immortal ‘elves’. I was looking forward to the ambiguity of good and evil, only to have a standard Big Bad fixated on as the story moves forward in more or less predictable ways.  

So, overall, I am fairly disappointed with how The Last Mortal Bond wraps things up. Yes, it was fun, and Staveley is just so excellent with the pacing, action, and tension that it really is almost impossible to stop reading his books. I know that it’s my own expectations that lead to my disappointment, and not (necessarily) what Staveley actually did with the book – because it’s not bad, not bad at all. It’s just that I saw so much potential in The Providence of Fire and where things could be taken, and it was crushing to see The Last Mortal Bond take the path that pretty much everyone else before has taken.

Final verdict: Good series, fun writing, exactly what fans of traditional epic fantasy crave…safe. But damn, it could have been great.

Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne

The Emperor’s Blades: My Review, Amazon
The Providence of Fire: My Review, Amazon
The Last Mortal Bond: Amazon

Set in the Same World As Emperor’s Blades

Skullsworn (forthcoming): Amazon


Antonakis said...

I liked this review a lot! I haven't read any of Staveley's books yet but the review makes a good and sincere point about subjectivity and expectations. I've felt that way many times for many books. A good book but not what I wanted or what I expected, ... or even what I would have written if I were behind the pen.
Keep reviewing Kenneth, I missed your reviews and your taste in books!

Neth said...

Thanks Antonakis. Expectations are always a big part of reading and I always try to be aware that even if mine aren't met, it doesn't (necessarily) point to a weakness in the book.

I'm still around, and still writing reviews. Just at a slower pace than in the past.

Mike said...

Hey, not so much a comment on the review, but, nice re-design of the site. Nice. I like it a lot.

Ben said...

I felt the same way. I was so excited by the subversive promise of TPoF and I have no idea how the series concluded as it did. As you mentioned, Gwenna was great and I enjoyed the risky direction he took Valyn's arc, but ultimately the book was shockingly safe.

I don't think you're right to blame your expectations here, because they weren't all in your head. The second book definitely suggested the series was going to be something it wasn't. Or maybe Staveley's one step ahead, subverting the idea of subversion in the most subversive move of all.

Neth said...


Thanks! I figured after 10 years a new look was in order. And one that may be for functional with devices that didn't really exist at that time.


It's good to know I wasn't the only one who felt that way. I felt let down by it not living up to expectations laid out in the second book.


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