Thursday, 30 July 2009

Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light by Michelle Sagara West

The fourth and final book in the Sundered Quadrology, Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light concludes the story of Stefanos the Servant of the Dark Lord and Erin of Elliath. It seems that finally the Dark will succeed as the power of the Light fades. But Erin is determined to free the light whatever the cost. This will be the last confrontation between the Light and the Dark.

I don't know if it's because I've left it so long between book 3 and book 4 but I found it harder to get into this one. The story also starts slowly as the various players move into position for the final battle. There's quite a lot of politicking going on and I was really struggling to keep all the council members, priests and lords straight in my head. And I admit here to not understanding everything that was going on. Saying that, I greatly admire how Michelle Sagara West is able to slot everything together, there is the ultimate confrontation between dark and light, but within that individuals manipulate situations to their own advantage and pursue their own ends.

Perhaps the most fascinating and tragic character introduced here is that of Amalayna. And I feel that Chains of Darkness,... is worth reading if only to read her story. Michelle Sagara West captures perfectly the conflict that Amalayna feels - the need for vengeance balanced against the decision to take it. Her need is so powerful but not without doubt and uncertainty, very well written scenes.

Maybe the main problem I have is that as with the previous book Erin and Stefanos are separated. (Right until the end). There isn't the quest plot here to sustain the interest as there was in Lady of Mercy (the third book) and it makes for much harder going.

Erin is an emotionally distant heroine - completely in keeping with all that has happened to her, but a little frustrating at times. Bethany perhaps best explains the situation when she explains to Darin what will happen when Erin and Stefanos meet:-
...the Sarillorn of Elliath must carry the battle to its logical end. What she brings is war and death. Could you face him easily, with only that to offer? Could you face him so, knowing that he would not lift hand against you?
Erin doesn't really grasp until she is told that she is the last hope of a desperate people. And the scene of her torture at the end was I think just one too much for me. (It took me back to the scenes in Book 2 which were also very disturbing).

Stefanos on the other hand has maintained my interest perhaps more than any other character. This is one of the few series I've read with a true anti-hero - a protagonist who stands opposed to everything a hero should be. (Urban fantasy writers currently writing about demon heroes should take note). Even in this last book when we anticipate that he will somehow be redeemed he is still sacrificing and murdering people. But, importantly his motivation has changed, he has changed. His, has been the journey that kept me reading the books.

Would I recommend the series? Yes. The first book I still feel is one of the best introductions to a series I have read, and Stefanos is one of the most interesting and disturbing (anti-)heroes. I believe this is the first series Michelle Sagara West wrote and whilst (for me) the ending has let it down slightly, I cannot imagine any other ending than the one I have read. I think for anyone who loves dark fantasy, this is a series they should read.

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