|Cover illustration by Sam Hadley|
Sebastien de Castell
Hot Key Books, 17 October 2019
HB, e, 504pp
I'm grateful to Hot Key Books for a free copy of Crownbreaker to consider for review.
It's always a bittersweet thing to come to the end of a great series. Nice to see everything wrapped up - but a parting from beloved characters - and it seems to come so soon. Yet here we are, at the end of de Castell's Spellslinger sequence, six books on (and every one of them an absolute, zinging, jawdropper of a book) with Crownbreaker itself fully living up its predecessors and Kellen, finally, growing into himself, showing what he's achieved and what he's learned.
And it's a joy to read, but I still felt sad.
There is a conscious air of things being completed. The war that has been brewing on the continent finally seems about to boil over, with a powerful nation, hitherto been occupied by internal disputes, about to unite. Kellen is tasked with stopping this by any means necessary to save both his birth home and the Jan'Tep, and his adopted land of Darome.
By any means necessary - even if it requires killing a child.
As you will guess at once that doesn't sit well with Kellen, and the involvement of his father and sister in the forces directing him only increases his unease. Through these stories, ever since being sent into exile, Kellen has remained stubbornly independent of his family, but his relationship with them is complex and this could mean a final choice for or against them. What's more, it's made clear to him that the errand in Berabesq is personal, affecting both his mother and Ferius.
This book is in some respects a simpler story than the earlier ones, or at least it seems to be: there is a straightforward, out and back structure with a goal to be achieved and - I think - less of a mystery about what's going on (though de Castells has some tricks up his sleeve, as does Kellen).
Instead, much of the weight of the story is on Kellen's moral dilemma, and on what - who - he wants to be, how he sees his future given the breach with his family and the ways of the Argosi, which mean he must also part from Ferius. So Kellen's ability to handle difficult situations even without Ferius's lead is key. In many respects she's trained him now, he is his own Argosi and equal to all of the other Paths of This and That. It's as well because through this book he's constantly being thrown curveballs - by cabals of mysterious operators in Darome, by the forces of law and order (a particular Marshall seems almost to enjoy locking him up... and she seems to have more than the demands of justice in mind...), by his family and even by God himself.
It's great to see Kellen navigating all this with aplomb. He's not the whiny, self pitying boy he started out as, rather he is more confident and in control. It's not that he has become some awesome, powerful Hero - Kellen explicitly shuns that role - but more that he seems to know himself. He understands who he is, what he wants to protect and what he's willing to give up to do that.
None of which means things are easy. While the book may wrap up threads from across the series - and we meet some old friends - nothing is achieved without loss and grief, indeed there are some very sad moments. Despite those, it remains a rattling good adventure with the characteristic humour of the series and - of course - Reichis with his dubious morality, love of butter biscuits and light fingers (er, claws).
I'd call this a triumphant final book in the series, as de Castells ends things on a real high and would strongly recommend it.