The Light of All that Falls by James Islington

9.2/10
Complex, epic fantasy that deals wonderfully with ideas and themes in fresh ways
The Light of All that Falls book cover

Book of the Year 2019 (see all)

The Light of All that Falls is the beautiful, action packed conclusion to James Islington's Licanius Trilogy. The narrative picks up roughly a year after the conclusion of An Echo of Things to Come and, while it pauses at a few points, doesn't really let up until the final pages. This is fresh epic fantasy in the vein of the Wheel of Time. There is plenty for fans of complex world building to enjoy, as well as a deep magic system that plays a central role in the plot, political factions aplenty, and a cast of characters you love and care about.

For me, the area where Islington truly excels in The Light of All that Falls - and, really, in the entire trilogy - is how he deals with themes of destiny, fate, and redemption. My observation is that these sorts of themes are often difficult to deal with in fantasy. Prophecy can become a crutch for a story. The idea of destiny or fate either cheapens decisions that characters make or reduces the tension in the story to unacceptably low levels. Yet Islington manages to meet these challenges head on, giving us a beautiful story that questions fate and free will and suggests that maybe the issue isn't so much the decisions one makes but one's motivations in making them. Is complete and total freedom to decide one's actions a blessing or a curse? And, going along with this, in what ways is one responsible for one's actions if the past and future are entirely immutable? What if the past can be wiped out, are the consequences of decisions then entirely meaningless? As the characters wrestle with these sorts of questions, it never feels like the story gets bogged down. Rather, this is the natural progression of the various character arcs. Topping it all off is a story of redemption done so well that I lack the words to fully express how well Islington succeeded at writing a believable redemption arc. It doesn't cheapen what characters have done or what victims have experienced. There are consequences. But there is always the possibility of redemption, and that's a feeling I believe it's incredibly difficult to capture. Islington threads that needle masterfully. All of this is made possible because of a complex plot involving time travel in a way that I've never quite seen in fantasy before. It's unique and engaging and makes complete sense given the world and magic that the author has created.

The themes aren't the only things to love about this novel. As I mentioned, there is a deep and multifaceted magic system in the world of the Licanius trilogy, and this final volume expands on and explains a number of elements that I was curious about given the previous two books. The plot itself is also quite complex, and I thought Islington did an excellent job of bringing all the various threads together in satisfying ways that felt natural without being overly predictable in this final volume. That's something difficult to do when, because of time travel and prophecy, you literally already know what is going to happen in certain situations. Islington manages it with aplomb. I also continued to fall in love with these characters, and felt like almost every single character received enough narrative space to conclude their arcs well. Even the antagonists felt authentic and natural, like real people who very much believe they are right. Maybe the best way to say it is that all the various arcs were concluded in entirely satisfying ways.

My criticisms are few. There were a couple characters that sort of show up near the end and I felt like we didn't fully know what had been going on with them. There were one or two other places where I felt like perhaps Islington ran into some page count issues and just didn't have the time to fully land the plane. Happily, we're talking about only a couple of secondary or tertiary plot points there, so it didn't impact my enjoyment negatively.

The Light of All that Falls is complex, epic fantasy that deals wonderfully with ideas and themes in fresh ways. While feeling like a classic fantasy it does new and fresh things with old tropes and I enjoyed every moment of it. It will appeal most to fans of big, sprawling epics like Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn or Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. I can't wait to see what Islington gives us next!

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