Rating: 5 out of 5
No one’s perfect, but sometimes everything comes together, especially in literature. It’s fascinating to watch an author grow and grow, slowly improving over time, fixing faults in their writing, finding new ways to explore tired old plot devices, coming to grips with their weaknesses and making them strengths. It’s not all that rare in the world of books, but it’s still special.
And this brings us to The Old Ways: Paladins Book III by David Dalglish.
I, for one, am a huge fan of the author’s work. (Surprised? Look through my archived reviews and you won’t be.) I’ve read every book Dalglish has come out with, and either loved or really liked every one. But this one is something special. Gone is his penchant for rushing, for occasionally taking the easy way out and brushing aside important internal conflict. Instead, what the author has given us in this book is a pace that moves slowly, fluidly, that gradually builds the tension and grows the characters until they explode off the page in the last act.
The Old Ways continues with the struggles of Jericho, paladin of Ashhur, and Darius, former paladin of Karak. The story picks up where we left off in Clash of Faiths, with Darius being converted to the side of light in his trial-by-fire (and unnecessarily rushed) clash with his old friend. He’s a man isolated even when he’s surrounded by people. He’s haunted by his past deeds, both inwardly and outwardly, and the fact that many of those past deeds hurt a great many people does nothing but make life much more difficult for our poor antihero.
But he’s learning, changing, determined to become a better man, even if it kills him.
On the other side of the coin we have Jericho, the sometimes too-good-to-be-true goodie-goodie. While I loved his character when he first appeared in Half-Orcs, truth be told he can be a bit one-note with how honorable and loyal he is. But then again, his purpose in this story is to act as foil for Darius, for Darius is the true star of the show, the character that grows and experiences pain and redemption and acts like a living, breathing human being. He is the backbone of this novel—the backbone of the series, really—and in this book he really shines.
Along with Darius’s redemption, Dalglish also pushes the envelope with his new cadre of villains. We have Valessa, the Grey Sister who died in Faiths, only to be reborn as something dark and complex, a being of shadow that cannot rest until her mission (killing Darius) is accomplished. The scenes involving her were brilliantly done, full of contradiction, self-loathing, and doubt. If there’s one character that I hope future books explore deeper, it’s her.
Then we have Luther and Cyric, priests of Karak who start up the journey toward changing the world to fit their god’s image. The complexity of each character is fantastic. They’re literary interpretations of different ways of obtaining political power—subterfuge cunning, and force and tradition. Both are effective in their own ways, and to watch their respective plans unfold on the page was awe-inspiring. Especially with Luther, who offers a surprise at the end that literally left me speechless.
So yes, I can say that David Dalglish has done it again. He’s written a book full of trepidation and turmoil, full of violence and self-discovery, a book that I fully ingested with aplomb. I may not be someone you really want to listen to in regards to my opinion on this book, since I’m a little more than biased toward him, but in my humble opinion he has created a work that goes far beyond simply being a third book in a series.
And that’s because The Old Ways, while not perfect, is just about as close as any writer can get to that unreachable ideal.
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