The final installment of Neill’s (The Journey to Karrith, 2016, etc.) baroque fantasy series.
After the disastrous battle in Karrith, in which dark elks slayed King Talamar, Prince Haille Hillbourne is a ruined man. Haunted by memories of his father and by the city’s carnage, he runs through an empty Karrith at night to try to cope. Eventually, the new king, Oean, arrests him for regicide and for conspiring with the invading Maurvant tribesmen. It doesn’t help Haille’s case that he rode into battle on Adamantus, an ally elk, hoping to thwart the dark elks. While clutching an odd, blue stone around his neck, King Oean sentences Haille to exile. Meanwhile, Katlyn, the prince’s classmate; and Avenger Red, a former child slaver, search for Adamantus, who’s fled. They meet Tallia Senkar, a Maurvant girl who describes a cloaked being called the Magus, who convinced the Maurvants’ Chief Kiruna that Karrith was to blame for failing crops, enabling a war. At the same time, Haille travels by filthy slave cart to the west coast, where he’s shipped to Castle Drahlstrom. There, he becomes the servant and secret confidant of Twiceborn Gregor Lachnor, a mage-in-training with secrets of his own. All the while, warrior sorcerers work to open the Seal of Dormain to release immortals called the Kryen. In this fifth Elk Riders novel, Neill continues to cut a unique swath through the epic-fantasy genre. Although so much has happened (and continues to happen) in the saga, the lush depictions of nature allow readers to pause and remain grounded. Along the Rimcur Mountains, for instance, “one could witness all varieties of weather: slanting slopes of rain draining from clouds, patches of brassy sunlight, rainbows slung over rainbows in-between.” Events from previous volumes continue to have importance in this one; the curative Font of Jasmeen, for example, failed to fix Avenger Red’s dwarfish height—and yet the woman is determined to atone for past sins, as if the font treated some other aspect of herself. Neill’s philosophical tone remains sharp, as when one character tells Haille, “Life does not owe you happiness, just purpose.”
A finale that delivers on the series’ promised action and emotional grandeur.