Phil Tucker’s third novel in his Chronicles of the Black Gate, The Siege of Abythos, was quite a wild ride. Each book in this series improves. To a large extent, this improvement is down to Tucker’s ability to craft convincing character arcs. This is epic fantasy the way it’s meant to be written, and I can’t wait to get to the next book in the series.
The world building in this series continues to be unique and intriguing in multiple ways. The way that the religious system interweaves with the concrete functioning of the world is believable and absolutely fascinating. In this third book in the series, we get more clarity around the magic system (though also plenty that has yet to be revealed) and we get to see even more of the world itself. To me, it felt like plot, characters, and setting all really coalesced in this novel. We’re definitely in the thick of things now in terms of plot and Tucker has done a stupendous job of keeping the plot fast moving while constantly developing new threats and new twists. The sense of development here is nearly off the charts. Every character is different at the end of the novel compared to the beginning. Every plot thread has been moved forward or wrapped up in a way that actually shifts things and moves another thread forward. It’s very well done. Tucker forces his characters through some crazy stuff, and he does it extremely well. I loved Audsley’s arc, in particular, as he has to come to terms with new found power and wrestle with his demons - both figurative and literal. Asho struggles with his identity since he has spent more time among Ennoians than his own people, to say nothing of how that fact alone is a tremendous challenge to Ascendency, the predominate religion. Iskra is forced to put all her leadership skills to use through political maneuvering and also comes to learn some important things about revenge. Tiron may go through the greatest changes, though they also tend to be the least action-packed. Still, where he finds himself in the end is absolutely incredible, and I have no doubt that his plotline in the next book is going to be a favorite. Tharok is Tharok and doing Tharok things the entire time. If you like well-developed characters along with your epic, twisting plots then this is a book you need to pick up!
There was, however, one aspect of the novel that just did not hit for me. Kethe’s arc felt very out of character, in a lot of ways. To begin, she spends the vast majority of the novel being reactive and doing exactly what she’s told to do with little defiance. This just felt so unlike Kethe from the previous novels. I believe we’re meant to understand that she had some sort of a spiritual experience which leads to this, but it didn’t seem that way to me. It felt like our defiant, fiercely driven Kethe was inexplicably compliant and going through the motions. The brief glimpses we received of the old Kethe were primarily instances where she was just being mean because other people weren’t as compliant as she was. I grew to dread her chapters as I was reading. This was all the more disappointing because Kethe had been amongst my favorite characters in the series up to this point. Note well, however, that this has a lot to do with my personal preferences.
The Siege of Abythos is filled with fast moving, twisting plots and loyalties with an amazing cast of characters. Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite epic fantasy series. If you haven’t read this series yet, you need to get to it soon.
Review by Calvin Park
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
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