I’ve been reviewing the individual books of the Outremer series as I finished each one, but the series could be considered as one long novel, and now I’d like to look at the series as a whole. A quick bit of background from when I asked Chaz about whether I should get the UK or US edition — the series was originally conceived as a quadrology, but part way through the UK publisher asked for it to be done as a trilogy, which led to the final volume being paced a bit differently to the original intention. When Ace bought the US rights, they chose to split the original three books into two volumes each, and issue the series as six books. Chaz took the chance to tidy up the third book of the trilogy, so apart from the splitting into two, there’s also a significant difference in the actual text. If you read the US edition, as I did, it’s worth bearing in mind that each pair of volumes is really a single book, and paced as such.
I still need to write an overview of the series as a whole, but here’s the review of the final volume in the US edition:
Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads
Over the last five volumes, Brenchley has laid out a large number of plot strands. Now he weaves them together in a final volume that sustains the tension almost to the end. The folded land of Surayon is folded no more, and has become a battleground for multiple warring armies, not all of them human. The different human armies are at war with one another, but face a greater enemy — if they can recognise it in time. The central characters of the series face their own battle to protect the many people and things they love, not all of which are on the same side. Marron’s battle is particularly harsh, for he has sworn, with good reason, to never again use the power of the Daughter to kill.
Even in the midst of battle, this is a character-driven story, and there’s some beautiful development of character, as each of the surviving main characters is tested to the breaking point. That’s “surviving”, because right the way through this has not been your fluffy fantasy where only the redshirts die. There’s no gratuitous gore, but that’s not because the author flinches away from showing the reality of a land at war. As a result, there’s genuine suspense right to the last chapter.
At the end of the battle for Surayon, there’s one last conflict to resolve. The King of all Outremer has until now been an off-stage figure, shown only through what others say about him, and the effects of the magical power he wields. And the survivors from various sides have questions they would like answered about his failure to intervene in their war at an early stage. They get their answers, but answers that pose more questions.
While Brenchley answers the reader’s questions, it’s far from a neat and tidy ending. A satisfying one, with Julianne, Elisande and Marron pragmatic enough to be content with what they’ve got, but certainly not a tidy one.
As a whole then, this is a wonderful and unusual fantasy series, with this volume providing a fitting conclusion. And while romance isn’t the be-all and end-all of the plot, the series is definitely one for fans of unconventional romance, so long as they don’t insist on all parties getting an unambiguous Happy Ever After.
The middle two volumes were focused purely on the desert, but this volume opens in Outremer, showing something of what happened to the people who were left behind. Magister Fulke is still intent on war against Surayon, and when he marches out, Sieur Anton marches with him — still hoping to find his errant squire Marron.
Those of the desert have a more pressing concern — finding and rescuing Julianne, who was abducted on her wedding night. They follow the trail to a trade city on the border between Outremer and the lands of the Sharai.
That’s her second wedding night. She ran away from her first husband on her first wedding night, hating to leave him but following a more urgent promise. Imber hasn’t giving up hope of finding her, and joins a march to the trade City in search of the coming war.
Then there’s the mysterious preacher and his flock of the not-quite-healed; an army, perhaps, for someone who chooses to use it that way.
And they’re all aimed at Surayon, with one tiny and personal battle near the end of this volume paving the way for a much larger battle in the next and final volume of the series.
This is only the first half of what was originally published in the UK as a single volume, but stands well on its own as a prelude to the final twisting together of the various plot strands that have been laid out over the course of the series. Even now it is impossible to predict how events will play out and whether any of the characters will find what they desire. It’s beautifully written, as ever, and shows us still more of the characters and their world.
It’s surprisingly tricky to review the later books in the series without giving too much away, in large part because the whole thing should really be regarded as a single long novel. Nevertheless, here’s the review of part four. I finished part five last night; *late* last night, because I could not put it down. Part five review will probably follow later today.
As the fourth volume opens, the little group of travellers finally reaches the safety of the desert city of Rhabat, and the council of the sheiks. But safety only for a little while, before the ‘ifrits make their presence felt. Again, Brenchley draws on the real world to form a solid foundation for his creation, with his depiction of the city carved from living rock.
The are two main plot threads running through this volume; one the growing love and friendship between various characters, the other the shifting balance between war and peace as Hasan tries to unite the Sharai tribes for war against the Outremer states, and the King’s Shadow and Ruban of Surayon try to dissuade them from war. But the future war is forgotten for a little while, as both sides make common cause to defend Rhabat from an enemy deadly to all.
Both plot threads come together around Julianne. The King’s Shadow is quite willing to use his own daughter in persuit of his cause, recognising the strong mutual attraction between Julianne and Hasan. Julianne finds herself with a second wedding arranged for political purposes — and a second prospective husband she is in love with, political marriage or no. But that’s far less complicated than the emotions swirling around Marron…
As with the previous volumes, much of the appeal of the series lies in the complex characters. They mostly try to do the right thing, at least by their own moral codes, but don’t always succeed. They’re human and have human failings, and one of the things the series shows is that moral codes can be different and not perfectly compatible, — and not always perfectly followed even by people who try to do so. It’s easy to become attached to these people, wanting to know what happens next and hoping for a good outcome for them all. But there are no guarantees here; characters die, and not just redshirts introduced as cannon fodder. It makes for a reading experience that is sometimes painful, but certainly intense.
Feast of the King’s Shadow (Outremer) 2/3 at Amazon UK
Outremer #4: Feast Of The King’s Shadow (Outremer, 4) 4/6 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website