In the Ruins by Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars: Book 6)

The world of Liath and Alain is breaking apart as King Henry's kingdom is savaged by earthly and supernatural forces, which they alone have the power to understand. The Eika warriors thirst for the King's land and power, their enmity sealed by generations of blood. Bitter in-fighting within King Henry's court and the ceaseless attrition of raiders also weaken his reign. Those who remain true must stay strong as the shadow of the Cursed Ones falls, and the spell holding the exiled from the planet fails. Liath must force her wild sorcery to maturity and Sanglant, her husband and King Henry's heir, must struggle to hold the realm together. The twin destinies of Liath and Alain may yet avert the destruction written in the stars.

It has been a long time since I read The Gathering Storm by Kate Elliott and the author gives us her apology at the beginning. The last novel is so long it has been split into books six and seven. Luckily this should mean the last is out soon, not giving much chance for the story of Sanglant and Liath the chance to fade from memory before we end this epic.

And an epic it has become, threatening to spill over into Jordan-esque longevity but without quite the intricate descriptions of mundane life.

So, Liath has unleashed a cataclysm on the world, killed Anne, freed the Aishoi back to eradicate humanity and ended up carried naked by griffins back to Sanglant who leads a bedraggled army back to Wendar.

Much of the next five hundred pages is taken up with the aftermath of the cataclysm as our groups straggle and struggle back to whence they came and try to restore order against the swathe of destruction. As such, Sanglant confirms his becoming regnant of Wendar and Darre though he and Liath are fighting hard against Mother Scholastica's vicious attempts to nullify their marriage. Blessing finds herself throwing more and more tantrums as she escapes a crown with Berthold and others, eventually being captured by the beautifully evil Hugh of Austra and being used as a pawn in the nefarious alliance with the Aishoi. Throughout a host of other supporting characters wheel and deal to establish a foothold in the new world order whilst the Aishoi prepare to invade, the most prominent of these being the alliance between Aheleid and the new power out of destroyed Arethousa, General Alexandros.

Much of this sixth novel, as Elliott warns us in her note, deals with post cataclysmic upheaval. The real action can be condensed into a hundred key pages as we follow Hugh in those final hundred as he makes his move once Elliott has moved her pieces into position for the final book.

The beauty of it is the fact that the one character who has become an ever deepening mystery is Alain. The opening character of the series, he ghosts in and out in a manner that is infuriating to the reader but used as a brilliant hook by Elliott to keep us moving forward ever faster to get our next glimpse. You can't help hope that the real climax of the books is going to arrive in Alain and that it won't disappoint. His destiny seems inexorable and he calmly accepts it whilst Liath dithers in powerful confusion, frustrating in her prevarication.

Elliott's barely disguised early-medieval world draws heavily on that social, geographical and religious structure and is delightful drawn, excellently characterized and possessing of a heavily built plot in a Jordan-esque fashion. Effortlessly building suspense and engendering real empathy in her characters with Hugh, Alain and Liath the stand-out people, the author has created a fantasy world that resides in the top echelons of the genre.

9/10 A fantasy world that resides in the top echelons of the genre.

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