What it’s about: The last book in the trilogy sees the three heroes achieve their respective destinies, and the truth of the world is revealed.
- Reading this book has been a long time coming – one could say that I started the series way back in 2008 when the first book came out, and I’ve only just finished the third book in 2017.
- The Dark Defiles, by and large, shares many of the flaws of the series as a whole – notably its tendency to get stuck in somewhat repetitive plot loops in which characters get pulled into dire situations only to be rescued by plot armour – Ringil with his terrifying spirit vanguard, and Archeth with her growing proficiency with her magic knives.
- But the last book does take the series in an interesting direction, most notably in the culmination of its long running attempt to set up Ringil for on the path of the classic hero’s journey, only to have him realise this and reject it in soundly characteristic fashion. It is revealed that the plot has a meta-plot – the events that happen to the characters are all orchestrated by higher deities that have to intrude into worldly affairs in a narratively circuitous fashion in order to follow a set of rules imposed by an even more inscrutable set of beings that have set the laws of that present reality after it was almost torn apart by a cataclysmic war.
- These gods have been grooming Ringil (and similarly, the Helmsmen have been grooming Archeth) – so that he can fulfill the destiny they have in store and thereby achieve their inscrutable objectives. And Ringil follows the tracks and grows in power akin to some shounen anime protagonist, protected by the plot armour bestowed upon him by the gods, until he reaches that crucial point where he is expected to seize the reins of his destiny – but he acts, in true bloody-minded fashion, opposite to what is intended, to grasp his own destiny.
- Similarly, Archeth was maneuvered by the Helmsmen into embarking on a quixotic quest north, which was a facade for their machinations to set her up as Empress – but she instead goes in a completely different direction.
- Egar, out of the three, had no greater destiny, and his death was genuinely quite shocking, although in the context of the greater character carnage Morgan was wreaking on his characters, not entirely discordant with the theme. He was a normal bloke after all, and he, too, was manipulated like a pawn by the gods and used to serve a tangential purpose in the larger scheme of things. But it is Egar’s death that derails Archeth’s particular pre-set destiny chosen for her, although events conspire to suggest that she may heave closer to that fate than she thinks (as she rides back to Yhelteth, not knowing that her Emperor Jhiral has reclaimed Ishgrim for his own).
- There are echoes of a technological past and a tenuous connection with Morgan’s Altered Carbon series of books too, connections that are more spiritual than suggestive of an actual canonical relation. But the parallels and hints are exactly the kind of thing I like in fantasy.
- All in all, a well-executed conclusion to the series, both in terms of its thematic payoffs as well as the way in which the various plot threads were ultimately tied together – in what I must say was quite a miraculous fashion, considering that 50 pages to the end I was starting to wonder if there was supposed to be a sequel to this book.
Verdict: The Dark Defiles is a thematically satisfying conclusion to the series, and ties off the various loose ends in a pleasingly ambiguous fashion.
I give this: 4/5 smart daggers