Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Blood War Trilogy: Requiem review

    I was a big fan of Tim Marquitz's Dawn of War (reviewed here) and its follow-up Embers of an Age (reviewed here). The premise of the books is a Deconstruction of the traditional bloodless epic fantasy where a bunch of mindless, brutal killing machines like orcs or goblins assault a pure and good fantasy kingdom.

    Here, we see just how horrifying a race of completely evil monsters would really be as well as how the nature of war would cause terrible changes even in supposedly good heroes. The books aren't the grittiest of grimdark fiction but they're full of intense action, harsh consequences, and enjoyable characterization. Requeim finishes up the trilogy with the bang, leaving very few loose ends but leaving room for a sequel if Tim Marquitz ever decides to visit the setting again.

    Albeit, just barely.

    I'm not kidding when I say harsh consequences.

    The book opens with the genocidal battle between the wolf-men analogues for orcs, the Grol, versus the Tolen and Lathah people. Having driven the Lathah to almost extinction, the latter have decided they are going to wipe out the Grol in the same manner they were targeted to be wiped out. The Tolen, the race of wolfmen the Grol descend from, are only too happy to aid them in this revenge-motivated war crime.

    While I normally hold these sort of developments in fantasy in disdain, genocide is genocide whether against Daleks or not, I think Tim Marquitz avoids the uncomfortable undertones of this trope by presenting it as the Lathah's brutal desire for vengeance coupled with the Tolen's own racism. I would have appreciated someone in the books commenting on the horrors of the plan but also understand this isn't the kind of book where everything works out fine for our heroes and no one gets lost in the bloodshed.

    Quite the opposite.

    We also, finally, get an answer for Sultae's motivations for arming the most destructive and violent of cultures to destroy the land's peoples. It's not a particularly intelligent or well-thought out rationale but it is the kind of one which a child exiled from her parents into the woods to die for being infected with a disease would.

    She's created an entire mythology in her head to justify an unforgivable act against her. The fact the Sha'Ree can't reach her is good because that kind of self-justification does exist in real life, born from emotion and pain rather than any kind of logical thought. Some readers may dislike that Sultaae is not a more cold and calculating villainess but I think rationality goes out the door when you begin with, "exterminate all other races but your own."

    The final resolution to Arrin, Malya, their children, and King Olenn is handled in a dramatic manner which goes in a surprising direction. I, admit, had expected something conventional like Malya's husband dying so they could reunite or Arrin starting a relationship with Kirah. In fact, the story ends just about the only way it could have and I like it. I also like how Olenn's obsession with Malya and Arrin is his undoing in a most unexpected manner.

    For a decade and a half, he's struggled with them being the two most important people in his life, so much so that it has dominated his thinking during the war. There's a truly great moment where Olenn ends up having to deal with people who don't care about any of his issues and willing to make the kind of sacrifices to deal with a perpetual hostage taker as well as threatener like him. Olenn's breakdown when he realizes he doesn't know how to deal with people like that is a glorious thing to read.

    The real stand-out star of the book is Braelyn, who I didn't think much of as a protagonist when she was first introduced in Dawn of War but who has come into her own as a major star of the series. Braelyn takes center-stage as the leader of humanity and, perhaps, the last best hope for the nations of Ahreele as the island continent starts to break apart under the stress of the magics being unleashed. The fact she's a middle-aged woman, mother, ship captain, badass warrior, and antihero make her almost unique in fantasy.

    In conclusion, Requiem is an awesome end to the Blood War Trilogy and probably the best book in the series. Tim Marquitz resolves all of the major plotlines, most of the subplots, and ends things in an apocalyptic but satisfying fashion.


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