And here ends one of the most impressive and enjoyable recent epic/heroic fantasy series of the recent era. Darkened Blade by Kelly McCullough is the final book in his Fallen Blade series, following the adventures of Aral Kingslayer, and his ever-growing cohort of companions, friends, and enemies.
I have loved this series from beginning to end, and I’m truly saddened that there isn’t going to be another book for me to jump into straight away. I picked up the series only a few weeks ago, not long after the sixth book was released, which meant I was able to read each one right after the other. That’s a truly wonderful gift, and even more so when it comes to a series you truly love.
This book featured everything I loved about the series as a whole, and a bit more as well. The growth of Aral Kingslayer reaches a tipping point, and there’s a lot on the line for the once degenerate-now heroic assassin. The book doesn’t have a mid-climax followed by a final-climax like so many books. Rather, it builds from beginning to end, relying a lot on the reader’s love of the characters involved. That’s not to say this book isn’t jam-packed with action – for surely it is – but there’s also a lot of time spent with others, friends and companions, even a few enemies along the way. There’s a couple of “gathering the team” moments, not to mention a “restructuring” – both of which I absolutely loved. And by the time the book began to near its close, the end-game kicked into top gear, pulling the reader (and lead character) along its wake.
There are some new concepts introduced here as well, and a few more that were introduced in the last book are shown to be obvious set-ups for this finale. But given the pacing and style of McCullough’s work, the reader doesn’t suffer from these additions, rather, the author has created an opportunity for future stories to be told and expanded from these little titbits.
And I do hope that McCullough returns to writing about Aral Kingslayer in the future, because there is so much more that could be done with this amazingly fantastical world. In a day and age where fantasy tropes are a dime-a-dozen, McCullough crams them all in to one series of books without them ever seeming like tropes or like ham-fisted attempts to simply drag them in. This world is beautifully knit together to be fantastical, so there’s no surprise when the magical-eels start talking mind-to-mind or the zombies invade your secret meeting with a traitor. The world is just so joyously and frenetically fantastical that it’s hard not to love it.
Kelly McCullough’s Darkened Blade caps off a fantastic series of books that have all the speed and flare of Michael J Sullivan, and the depth of David Gemmell and James Barclay. They might be a quick read, and a little less polished than some of those McCullough may be compared to, but the enjoyment factor outweighs almost any criticism you could lay against this fantastic series.
Review by Joshua S Hill
8/10 from 1 reviews
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