Haven by Joel Shepherd (A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 4)

Joel Shepherd’s ‘A Trial of Blood & Steel’ has been a fantasy series unlike so many that populate the shelves of our local bookstores (electronic or otherwise). It has much of the flavour of Robin Hobb’s ‘The Realm of the Elderlings’ series, with political wrangling and lessons in right versus wrong. Finishing this series was sad, but only in the way that finishing the last of the ice cream is sad, ie, there is no more.

‘Haven’ was the final book in Shepherd’s series, and saw the culmination of all that had come before it; both the story and characters, and in Shepherd’s own writing abilities.

The story has always been one that fascinated me, focusing much less on the ‘fantastical’ aspects of the fantasy genre and more on the implications of living alongside another race entirely. Blended into this was the impact of human religion and the natural undercurrent of fear, bloodlust and a desire to see everyone bend to human will.

You cannot write a book like this – with its look at human will and fear – without great characters, and Shepherd certainly knows how to write wonderful characters.

Our lead character, Sasha, has grown in wisdom and maturity since the first moment we met her, and finishes out this series a shining beacon of humanity, cast so well against the backdrop of the worst of humanity. She has increased control over her temper, grown in understanding of the politics and situations around her, and all without ever losing her killer grasp of the sword.

But over the length of the four books in this series, other characters have grown to importance. Characters that are both loved and hated fight for your attention, and you want them to have it as well. The world around Sasha is explored and understood through her interactions with others, and the interaction of those others with the world around them.

Above all I was unsurprised to see myself in tears as the final pages of the book shocked me and saddened me. People I have loved, and people I have hated have brought me to tears with their actions and ends.

This book is the final book of four, so no, I don’t recommend reading it without reading the other three. But all the books have done their utmost to entertain me without resorting to mindless fantasy tropes, and succeeded each and every time to the point that I look forward to the day – not too far from now, I imagine – that I get to go back and reread them.

10/10 Shepherd certainly knows how to write wonderful characters.

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