As I said in my review of The Hobbit, during this reread I was surprised by how light that novel is; I suspect that my memory of its tone from my last reading was affected by my intermediate viewing of the movies. Or, perhaps I was merely linking it with the core Lord of the Rings books, which very quickly take on a markedly different tone from their prequel (and yes, I know that technically there is just one "book," which was split into three parts for the convenience of readers and publishers). The implications of a darker turn are heavy throughout even the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, but are pivotally confirmed with the events of the chapter A Knife in the Dark.
I am very excited to present to you the first episode of a brand new season of Blood Magic, the short story series that I've been publishing for over a year now on IGC Publishing to minimal fanfare. If you're not already familiar with it, I encourage you to go over to the main Blood Magic page or any of my myriad posts on the subject to learn more. Better yet, I encourage you to start at the beginning, and read the first episode. We even have a newly revised edition here on the site, newly re-released for 2021.
I've been seeing that Sanderson was working on this novella from his website's status bar for quite some time now, but I hadn't been sure what it was (though I could have figured out without too much more research, I know). However, I was not expecting it to come out so close to when the fourth Stormlight novel finally came out, and was very excited to find that, in November, I had not one, but two new pieces of Stormlight literature to enjoy.
Supposedly, that's the end of Shannara. Terry Brooks claims that The Last Druid was the latest he intends to go in the in-world timeline. This series was supposed to radically alter the Four Lands forever, and I was expecting something big. The first couple of books were promising, with the Skaar invasion and the fall of the current Druid Order (the Fifth?); the Skaar were such a compelling, dominant force that it seemed certain that they were going to be in the Four Lands to stay.
As I mentioned in my other Fall of Shannara reviews, it is difficult to separate out a single book to discuss it when that book is a part of a series that is part of a saga stretching over decades of real world time and dozens of installments, but I will do my best. This book, quite frankly, had enormous shoes to fill: it had to be a good book in and of itself, it had to be a satisfying conclusion to the Fall of Shannara series, and it had to be a pleasing ending to the entire Shannara series. Next week, we'll do a review that covers how it did in the latter two categories, but I will do my best in this post to constrain myself to looking just at this piece.
Between working on Blood Magic and Fo'Fonas, which while very different are both larger-scale projects than anything I've attempted before, I'd like to think that I've been getting a lot better at building characters and plots. Certainly Blood Magic has forced me to stretch in this respect. Since I've been working a lot on them, I decided that I needed another, newer project to keep my writing fresh, since I find that if I sink too much into one or two projects I start to get too deep into the world and the storytelling suffers as a result.
We may have talked about "second book syndrome" before on the site. If you've read, or even watched, many series, you've probably noticed it: the first installment comes out strong, and then the second falters a little before things improve again in the third. By no means is this universal, but it is common enough to be remarkable, which is why we're remarking on it. Whether it's the result of the author trying too hard to replicate the success of the first book, or the fact that the pacing of a second book can feel a little like the pacing of the middle of a novel, which is always the hardest to keep interesting, second books often falter. Not Words of Radiance, which takes what made The Way of Kings fantastic, and built upon it to create a sequel worthy of the Stormlight Archive.
Considering that a lot of classic fantasy genre tropes come from this period and region of history, perhaps that is a bit of an oversight on my part, one that reading Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series has helped me address. In fact, reading these books, combined with some thinking I've been doing recently about plotting, has led me to some interesting reflections. So while this is still a review of the series, I also want to talk a little about those thoughts.
In the previous two books in this series, a lot of time was spent bringing players into place and setting up introductions. There is plenty of action, but it all retains a fairly light touch - there is a sense that, although things are happening and changes are occurring, nothing really major has changed yet, and anything that has changed is not necessarily permanent. This is common in series, when you start to look at them holistically; it takes time and words to put all of the characters into the places they need to be for the plot to start really picking up. With The Stiehl Assassin, the plot definitely accelerates.
As I was reading this book, I was wrestling with a confusion that had nothing to do with its contents, and which I should seek to clarify. This book, sold in the US as Margaret of Anjou, is the same book as Trinity, the title under which it is sold in the UK. And now that we have that exceedingly minor point of confusion cleared up, we can get on with the rest of the review.