I really wanted to like this book. I thought going in that I would like this book, because it seemed to have so many things that I look for in new fantasy novels: originality, unusual inspirations, intriguing characters with conflicting and mysterious motivations, really unique world and magic, et cetera. In fact, I wanted to like this book so much that I managed to convince myself to keep reading through to the end, despite the fact that at least once per chapter I was about ready to put it down, so I guess you could say that's a testament to it being a better novel than my rating would imply, since it kept giving me just enough of what I liked to keep me from walking away from it in disgust.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent...
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
I don’t remember if this was a comparison I developed, or if I read it somewhere and expanded upon it, but I’ve taken to using windows to explain different styles of writing to others. What I do remember is that it's based on Brandon Sanderson describing his prose as "transparent." This made perfect sense to me, but when I mentioned it to others, they were confused by the idea, and ever since I've been trying to come up with a better way of explaining this metaphor. In other words, I hope that this post is going to make sense to you.
It's always a little bittersweet to come to the end of a series, especially if its one in which you grew truly fond of the characters. Plus, the end of a series is where all of the questions are answered and the open story-lines are tied up in some fashion, so the final book in a series can in many cases make or break the entire series. Getting the endings right is at least as important as getting the beginnings right. Did Checkmate give a great ending to a great series? Yes, yes it did.
Honestly, I'm not even quite sure where to begin reviewing this book (it probably doesn't help that I started reading this series years ago, long before I started consistently reviewing books on this website). I will do a full series review after reviewing Checkmate, but let's focus for now on The Ringed Castle. To put it in as few of words as possible, I loved everything about this book, and not just because my fiancee bought the series for me. It's sort of like what would happen if you took a highly educated Jack Sparrow, and plopped him into the middle of Lord of the Rings level writing, and set the entire thing to the beat of 16th century Russia, but that doesn't even begin to do it justice.