The engulfing finale of the scenario unrolled with The Ships of Merior, Warhost of Vastmark offers frantic chases, layers of carefully planned subterfuge, ingenious bending of circumstances and counterploys, fateful auguries, bloody battles and the incredible, growing cast of well-rounded characters I’ve come to love in this series, whose wills closely intertwine with the strategies pursued by the Princes with unexpected results.
The Fellowship Sorcerers, in their quest to free Arithon and Lysaer from the geas that is lacerating them, learn new and dire details about the nature of Desh-thiere, and come to realize the unnatural fog that veiled the sky for five centuries was just a small part of the force still at large beyond the World Gates: a danger too dire to provoke. Meanwhile the Koriani enchantresses, engaged in their own quest for survival, strive to retrieve their long-lost Waystone, whose location has finally been revealed, and regain in full their role as humanity's wards. Both wish for the subduing of any threat to their world with dramatically diverging premises, while the complexity of adherence to their tenets, the personal ambitions, their sympathies -or lack thereof- and all the idiosyncrasies which make even the most powerful magic user a human being mingle and mold the course of events.
The lines are drawn: as if the setback in Minderl Bay never happened, Lysaer successfully applies his natural skill in “the art of fine statecraft” and charisma to win the commitment of his allies, in order to fight for the cause of ridding the world of Athera from the evils of the Master of Shadow. Arithon, burdened by yet another oath and still bounded to the mad prophet Dakar, turns his sight towards the ruthless mountains of Vastmark pursuing his own, mysterious plans with peerless efficiency and the help of a carefully tended intelligence network, all the while seeding “clear logic mayhem” in the warm seas of Shand plying “the time-honoured trade of his family”.
Whereas Arithon fights his fate with a "full understanding of the curse that shackles his will" and chooses to spurn dependency and ties, resolute in “private subterfuge and flight”, Lysaer's sense of justice, mercy and morality are wrenched awry and his “public cry to take arms for a misdirected justice” dangerously borders on a blind obsession that hears no reason. He has already proven himself a political mastermind of incredible finesse, able to deftly turn the results of his poor strategy and tactics to his own advantage; however, this time he’s ready, in honest resolve, to take the conflict to a whole new level of worldwide consequences and let nothing steer him away from justice's due course and the greater good of Athera.
The prince of the West wielding the gift of Light and the reserved, lithe new Masterbard of Athera, in the thrall of their opposite desires, are inexorably dragging in their conflict the disparate factions of the towns and the old-blood clans, cultures long-locked in the “hatreds of entrenched feud” and ready to seize any opportunity to advance their cause; the people of Athera and even the most beloved friend or lover won’t come unscathed from crossing the path of the half-brothers’ Mistwraith-sanctioned confrontation. As the story unfolds, twists and turns, matters become even more entangled and the inevitable meeting on a battleground cannot be forestalled for much longer.
The pair Arithon-Dakar plays a central role, but there is a lot more insight on Lysaer, and as the reader accosts the depth of his self-blinded delusion, it is difficult not to wonder to what extent are both princes the victims of circumstances, or the shapers of their own fate. It was very interesting to discover the new developments of the story and characters in the light of actions, thoughts and mishaps encountered in the previous books; Warhost of Vastmark's promise of full delivery of the seeds sown in Merior is masterfully fulfilled, the story never disappoints or repeats itself, but converges and opens new threads of action.
The third book of this inspired epic fantasy series was everything I could ask for, gorgeously written, both action-packed and full of emotional impact on many levels, I can see it clearly how this and Merior are aptly part of the same story Arc; not lacking in funny humor or wry satire, either, particularly at Dakar’s expense, but also thanks to the hotblooded clanborn s’Brydions brothers.
The intricate world of Athera, full of political strife, mysteries, old traditions and new needs as well as its variety of impeccably described landscapes and the daily struggles of common people, feels authentic and realistic; interspersed with the action, I absolutely loved the level of introspection offered on both Lysaer and Arithon. The many point of views of the narration may lend a sympathetic angle toward the Master of Shadow, but to see through Dakar, the clansmen, and even Tharrick and Jinesse the scope of Arithon's torment and integrity, or to see through Diegan’s and Talith’s love and devotion the Lysaer behind the royal mantle was delightful.
The princes who first banished the Mistwraith and their friends are profoundly changed, and I have seamlessly started book 4, Fugitive Prince, to see how things are going to play out after the resolute climax of Vastmark.