Monday, July 10, 2017

Darklands (Rhenwars Saga 3#) by M.L. Spencer



    DARKLANDS is the third novel in the Rhenwars series that is sort of an inversion of the Wheel of Time. The story begins with the protagonists doing their absolute best to fight the various forces of darkness as well as prevent the end of the world as their methods become more extreme, only for them to gradually come to sympathize with the so-called evil doers as their understanding of the universe expands.

    In the previous novels, we've had protagonists Branden and Darien break out all the stops in order to prevent underworld god Xerys' forces from overrunning the world. However, Branden's brother Quin and now Darien were both forced to swear unbreakable oaths to serve the hellish deity that have forced them onto the other side. Transformed into, essentially, Ringwraiths, they have been given the task of leading the people of the Darklands from their life in the eternal night.

    Rather than find a bunch of Satan-worshiping evil doers, they find an advanced culture which is always living hand-to-mouth due to the fact they have been forced to live in a desert with no sunlight. They can only survive due to the presence of magic and wish to escape their hellish domiciles. Darien's sympathy soon swells, especially as he discovered he's murdered legions of people who just wanted to secure a better life for their descendants.

    Dairen's former lover, Meiran, is troubled by this development because she has a one-dimensional view of the conflict as one between good versus evil. She's very much Wrong Genre SavvyTM in that she thinks she's in a Tolkien-esque story where the evil doers are one side where the good guys are on the ther but it's actually a grimdark tale by an author much more interested in questions those assumptions.

    In fact, the "good" guys have always been incredibly hypocritical and self-righteous in the Rhenwars books. With the invasion of the world on the horizon, the lesser kingdoms and religious orders are more interested in letting their defenders bleed themselves out rather than offering an ounce of support. The fact the mages have been reduced to almost nothing is a sign the other factions can strip them of their authority as well as power to influence them.

    There's romance in this novel but it's an interesting take on the whole "destined lovers" which we normally see in fantasy. Darien sacrificed everything, including his soul, for Meiran and she's disgusted by what he's become. Naia deeply loves Darien despite what he's become but he honestly just sees her as a friend. Quin's lover has been dead and gone for a thousand years but he still holds a torch for her. It's all nice, dark, and well-written which subverts a lot of common cliche.

    The only problem I have with Darklands is that it ends on a cliffhanger and it is the first book which doesn't give a definitive conclusion to its storyline. I was quite fond of the fact the stories were "one and done" beforehand.

9/10

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