Monday, June 8, 2015

The Price of Faith review

    The Ties That Bind series is a Sword and Sorcery series by Rob J. Hayes. It is an adult fantasy, contrasted to dark fantasy, which contains foul-mouthed antiheroes who live in a world of slavery as well as causal violence. Jezzet Vel'urn, Inquisitor Thanquil Darkheart, and the Black Thorn are all objectively terrible people but they're perhaps slightly less terrible than many of the people around them.

    They also make each other better.

    The previous book followed the adventures of the Black Thorn after the events of The Heresy Within novel and this book follows up with Jezzet and Thanquil. They have taken up service in the Dragon Empire, which is Sword and Sorcery China. Thanquil is continuing his hunting of witches, regardless of their morality, while Jezzet is the unwilling BFF of the Empress. We also get the thoroughly punchable smug snake Drake Morass, quite possibly the least likable lovable rogue in the history of fiction.

    But he's meant to be that way.

    I think.

    The price gives an insight into a very unusual sort of character in Sword and Sorcery: a man of faith. Thanquil Darkheart has a number of terrible qualities, including the willingness to murder the innocent for the greater good. However, on a basic level, he truly does believe in his God-Emperor and that what he's doing is the best road for humanity. Given the world he inhabits is so cynical, it's interesting to see Thanquil's piety is played straight despite the obvious corruption of the Inquisition.

    Jezzet is also trying to deal with something she never expected in her burgeoning conscience. I like the character development she has of actually starting to care about people and the world's unfairness due to Thanquil's influence. It's hilarious, in a really morbidly dark sort of way, that a religious fanatic capable of great atrocities starts to open Jezzet up to the wonders of helping others.

    This being grimdark fantasy, it doesn't entirely work out for her.

    The book resolves many of the outstanding plots from the previous two books while also setting up the next arc in the series. For three books we've been dealing with the traitors in the Inquisition and their plans to create an army of demon-possessed humans. Here, we get an understanding as to why they are pursuing this insane course of action and what has gotten them so frightened. There's a lot of surprisingly insightful bits about the arbitrary nature of power, shifting nature of morality, and the peculiar yet ever present power of faith. Thanquil Darkheart believes in the God Emperor in spite of several logical inconsistencies yet still manages to make it look better than Drake Morass' belief in nothing.

    While perhaps a bit stereotypical in its depiction of fantasy China, the Dragon Empire avoids orientalist tropes and manages to adapt the setting to his world with a minimum of fuss. The Dragon Empire is as dark and seedy in its own way as Sarth and other cities we've dealt with. I would have been interested in more stories set there with Jezzet and Thanquil dealing with the various cultural differences we see them run into separately. I also find the fact Jezzet challenges cultural assumptions by her very existence intriguing as well as the fact they can be a patriarchal society despite a absolute monarch Empress.

    I would be remiss in my review if I didn't mention that this book has a very controversial ending which has already had quite a few detractors amongst his fandom. Rob J. Hayes makes a choice to do something which George R.R. Martin would approve of. I'm, honestly, a bit iffy about it since I think the people involved were some of the most developed in the series with their loss diminishing the story rather than strengthening it. The fact it didn't immediately end with the hunting down and exterminating of the character responsible for it also irritated me tremendously. There's a couple of other dropped plot threads like the Prince's witch-wife that I thought could have been handled better.   

    Despite this, I'm a big fan of The Price of Faith. I liked the depiction of the main characters, enjoyed their reunion with the Black Thorn, and thought everyone was likable (including the villain) except for Drake Morass. Given the previous volumes had some truly reprehensible people in it, it's surprising how entertaining and sympathetic nearly everyone is. I'm still mad about the ending as I think it disrupts the dynamics of the characters too much and there was a lot more room for the characters involved to develop but it doesn't kill my interest in the series.


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