DARKRISE is the fourth volume of the Rhenwars Saga (technically third with a prequel). The premise of the books is a ragtag band of misfits were given the task of saving the world from the God of Evil and a natural cataclysm of anti-magic a 1000 years ago--then botched the job horribly. Now the world is divided between the light and darkness with the two sides viewing the other as purely evil with themselves as the good guys in a typical fantasy way. The books play a lot with typical tropes of the genre and actually have their protagonist switch sides midway through the story.
The premise of this book is Darien Lauchlin, the most powerful mage alive, has sold his soul to the God of Evil in order to free his lover from damnation. This resulted in him being given the job of making sure said God of Evil's followers are able to evacuate from a horrible disaster--which, notably, is not a terribly evil thing for said god to do. Unfortunately, his former friends and colleagues want nothing than the genocide of the refugees. Darien wants a peaceful solution for the million+ people as well as his former comrades but that seems impossible. Meanwhile, Naida and Quinlan are trying to figure out a way to prevent the end of magic and the death of everyone who uses it.
M.L. Spencer is one of the best grimdark authors of the 2010s and has managed to establish a world where you don't need gratuitous amounts of violence, swearing, or sex to be dark as hell. Her books thrive on a more cold uncertainty about what is the right thing to do and the perhaps chilling idea that there often isn't a moral answer to problems and many people who claim to be righteous are going to be doing so in order to justify atrocities. Heroes of the previous books become monsters here but the only thing which has changed is the humanization of who the violence is being done to. It's akin to doing 3 books about the people of Gondor and Rohan then switching to the genocide of Mordor's people.
An amazing job was done with the development of Darien as a protagonist. He started as a man who was willing to do anything to protect his people and, well, he's still that same person but his attitude has switched. The depth of his betrayal by Meiran is an interesting subversion of the usual "power of love" trope in fantasy. He was willing to sacrifice everything for the woman he loved, only to find out she immediately turned on him when she thought he betrayed their political cause. Meiran is the second major female love interest in the series to prove to be an awful-awful person and I'm starting to wonder if Spencer has a fondness for tearing apart epic love affairs.
Indeed, the only real critique of the book I have is the fact the romance deconstruction kind of flows through the entire book. Darien is only slightly less attractive to women than Daniel Craig and has seemingly every female in the novel want to sleep with him. These are ALL toxic relationships of various kinds and the healthiest one being where they realize Darien can't return their feelings before moving on. It's an interesting display of anti-romanticism and helps ground the book in a world where everything looks like it's a typical fantasy world but the truth is much darker.
This is the penultimate volume of the Rhenwars Saga and the set up for the finale is coming soon. I'm anxious for it as I think this is probably one of the best sagas to come out of fantasy in the past decade, especially since it didn't take years to write. It has its flaws but the story is moving and the characters interesting with a real set of themes behind the action. The fact it was all done as an indie fantasy novel budget and was self-published is the biggest surprise of it all.