Rating: 4.7 out of 5
“To the abyss with it all. I just want to burn stuff.”
For anyone who’s been following this blog, it should be readily apparent that I hold the Half-Orc series by David Dalglish in the highest regard. I love the characters, the darkness, the action, and the passion his work portrays. I read them in quick bursts, usually finishing in less than three days, and this book, “Death of Promises”, the third in the series, was no different.
This novel is a bit of an oddity. We pick up the story shortly after the last one ended, with Qurrah Tun and his batty goddess-girlfriend, Tessanna, off in search of a mythical spellbook he hopes will be able to cure his lover’s fractured mind. He takes hold of the book, only to discover that it is not what it seems; it is not a tome of spells, you see, but the journal of Qurrah’s old master, Velixar. Just like everything else in this book, there are layers upon layers of manipulation and underhanded motives.
The reason I say “oddity” is because the author takes a huge risk here. For the first half of the novel he focuses not on the heroes of the story – the Eschaton, which includes Qurrah’s brother, Harruq – but instead on the antiheroes. He outlines Qurrah’s further descent into madness, reintroduces Velixar, who has risen from the grave yet again, and demonstrates how their combined powers of darkness sweep the land, bringing a vile sort of order to the chaos that surrounds the forgotten realms, where those cursed by the gods now live. It is risky, and also very brave, storytelling. Some might bristle at this development, but I appreciated it. Especially after the emotional end to the last book, it made sense to go in this direction. That one was Harruq’s chance to shine, to show us his depth of caring and forgiveness; this is Qurrah’s opportunity to radiate the darkness he clutches inside him. That juxtaposition is necessary. If this is indeed a redemption story, then we need to see how far down the rabbit hole the villains will go. And let me tell you, they go far.
Come the second half of the novel, all the old particulars are back in force. In fact, the last third of the text is dedicated to a single, huge battle – the invasion of Velderan by the forces gathered by Qurrah, Tessanna, and Velixar. It is an intricately written series of skirmishes and mass combat, and it comes off as both exciting and concise. In fact, in a lot of ways the final battle reminded me of the siege of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, if you took away the monotony and uselessness to the overall story arc. This fight means something. It’s harsh and brutal. It encapsulates everything that makes the brothers different, and shows us how much they’ve grown into their distinct personalities since The Weight of Blood opened this world to us all.
As with the rest of the books in the series, author Dalglish presents his themes of choices, both good and bad, love and obsession, and the nature-versus-nurture argument that rages between the brothers and their opposing views of the world. However, in this episode, he introduces another theme, one that I appreciate more than any other: the dangers of religious fanaticism.
Most every character in this book is a fanatic. From Lathaar and Jerico, the paladins of Ashhur, to Velixar and the dark paladins of Karak, there are divergent beliefs that clash with each other around every turn. This, when it all comes down to it, is the reason this war starts in the first place. Kind of a “My God is bigger than Your God” type of bloody argument. It rings true, not only to this fictional world, but to our own, as well. And when you look at the construction of the characters, you can see that the most balanced of them, the ones most comfortable in who they are, are the ones who hold their faith not as a be-all-end-all, but as a leaning post for the thoughts and situations that trouble them. Harruq and the Eschaton are this way – strong in their faith, but open to other viewpoints and understanding of their free will. Qurrah is also this way, though through his descent we can see the fanaticism start to trickle in, which makes him all the more dangerous. And at the end of the day, it is those who are able to harness their different faiths, to meld old and new ways into something positive, that saves the day and offers our heroes at least a glimmer of hope for the future.
Just as with the other books in this series, the writing is pretty much spot on. My only complaint is that one major character – Tessanna’s mirror opposite, the goddess-made-flesh named (appropriately) Mira, is a bit wooden. However, this is remedied by the confrontation between the two of them, where again the subject of faith is explored. It is a beautifully written scene, and makes a character that had been previously uninteresting shine. But what does this have to do with faith, you ask? It seems the goddess Celestia, who created these two, had a plan for them. Their combined power, while locked in conflict, would destroy the inter-dimensional portal Qurrah and Velixar opened, in the hopes of freeing their god Karak from exile. But Mira’s free will, and her unwillingness to die for the cause, changes things. At first glance, it seems as if Mira made a mistake. The portal is still open, and demons are spewing forth into their world. However, on a more philosophical level, it makes perfect sense and could one day lead to the salvation of all their people. The gods are locked in an eternal struggle, constantly using mortals (and immortals) for their own means. It’s a vicious cycle, one proven by the fact that Tessanna and Mira, these “daughters of balance”, are not the first of their kind. They’ve appeared before, whenever the scales tip in either Ashhur or Karak’s favor. It’s manipulative, locking those on the surface into constant discord between contrasting sides of the same coin. But now, that balance has been obliterated. Now, we see that it’s not up to the gods to decide the fate of the world, but the people, themselves. In a place where free will exists, this is the only acceptable way for the conflict to end, and I’m glad to see it’s been done this way.
Yes, folks, “Death of Promises” is a fantastic book. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Cost of Betrayal” in certain regards, but is its equal in others, which makes it great, something that should be read. It’s a wham-bang thrill ride that will make you think and feel. The emotional threads are still there, and they still grasp you with their tentacles and pull you in even further.
Just like Qurrah, take a dive in and see how far down the rabbit hole goes. You won’t be disappointed.
Plot - 9
Characters - 9
Voice - 10
Execution - 9
Personal Enjoyment – 10
Overall – 47/50 (4.7/5)
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