Urfe sometimes felt like a waking dream, the realization of both his wildest fantasies and darkest nightmares.
That’s fairly early in the book, too — I’m sure by the end of this, Will will be thinking less of his wildest fantasies, focusing on the nightmares instead. Which isn’t that surprising, it’s book three of a quintet — things aren’t supposed to be sunshine and rainbows (although things are going to get worse).
Will and some others are off on a quest to recover the Coffer of Devla — an Ark of the Covenant-esque religious relic and object of prophecy. The Revolution would profit greatly from taking it into battle with them — for psychological/propaganda’s sake, if nothing else. This quest takes Will, Yasmina, Mala, and a few others to the jungles of Mexico to find a mythic pyramid that may house the Coffer. We’re treated to an annoying amount of Will pining after Mala, Mala taking advantage of that a few times, and Will not learning anything. I do find his hangup over her annoying, but it’s about the only thing about Will’s character that is that flawed, so it’s good to stress his imperfection and naiveté, I guess. This storyline frequently felt like it escaped from a Rick Riordan Book (one scene in particular) — a series of tests, and narrow escapes leading to other tests. That said, when Percy or his friends fail and/or don’t succeed fast enough, the consequences aren’t as bad as they are for Will and his companions, which makes them far more entertaining to read than the most recent Riordans.
Caleb stays behind and fills his days with doing small acts around the city to help people, and his nights with getting as drunk as is humanly possible. He may not have had tremendous success on Earth, but he had his niche and he did okay with it. On Urfe, he didn’t even have that, so he turned to drink. Until the only person in two worlds who could possibly get him to stop — or at least consider moderation — shows up and does just that. Caleb soon goes on a mission to warn those living in the Blackwood Forrest about the danger coming from Lord Alistair and try to recruit them to the Revolution. On the whole, this story goes exactly like you expect it to — but it was probably the most effective of the three brothers’ arcs in this book. There were parts of this story you couldn’t see coming — at all — but once those events were introduced, it quickly became inevitable to see how those would flow into the overall storyline. Predictable isn’t bad — I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it — it really doesn’t matter how surprising or unexpected your story is, what matters is how you tell it. And Green tells this one just right.
Which leaves us with Val — things were looking pretty bad for him when we saw him last, and in the few days that have passed between then and this novel’s kick-off, things have continued in that vein. He does some pretty clever and daring things to try help his situation, and then finds an opportunity he can’t turn down. He essentially has to try to carry off a suicide mission for the Queen. If he succeeds, he’ll be set free. If not . . . well, the Queen or Congregation still won’t execute him, because he’ll be dead. He assembles a team — including faces you wouldn’t expect — and sets off. This storyline is the most inventive, least predictable and most harrowing of the three (which at times is saying something). Somehow, in the middle, it’s also the most dull. But never for long, I want to stress. The people that Val is surrounded by, their perspectives and what Val goes through are all shaping him — for the one who had the hardest time coming to terms with the world he found himself in, Val’s really taken to it in a way his brothers haven’t quite. Without noticing it, Val’s become a different person than he was when he first came to Urfe — and I’m not sure any Blackwood is going to be happy with the differences once they’re seen in light of day. I’m not saying he’s been seduced by the Dark Side or anything — bu he definitely approaches things from a different angle.
Meanwhile, Lord Alistair continues his bloodthirsty and power-hungry machinations at the top of the Congregation.
We meet a lot of new characters in each of the storylines (especially Will’s and Val’s) — there’s not a one of them that I wouldn’t want to spend more time with. Several of them we won’t see again, alas, but…the others? I hope we get a lot of. While I enjoyed it, I know that I came across as ambivalent towards Will’s quest — but the people he travels with are welcome additions to this cast and I didn’t get enough time with them for my taste. The other new characters were about as good, but I thought we got as much time and use from them as we needed.
The first book kept the brothers together — on the whole, there were times the group was split. In The Spirit Mage, Green split them up so we had Will and Caleb running around Urfe trying to stay out of trouble (and failing miserably); while Val took awhile to return and then was in a completely different kind of story. This time, Will and Caleb are split up so we get each brother doing something on his own. I get the desire for that move, and the narrative need — or usefulness, depending how you look at it — for that move, I really do. But man, I didn’t like it. I expected it was too much to ask to see the three Blackwoods reunited early in the novel, but (incredibly minor spoiler) now whenever they do reunite, I’m afraid what they’ve gone through will make it unlikely to be co-belligerents, much less allies. Again, I get why it was done, and will probably appreciate it by the end of the series — but in the moment, I don’t like it. it. The Brothers Three presented them as an interesting, if very flawed, team. Which was one of the things I appreciated most about the characters — keeping them from interacting takes a little of that away.
That said, Green did a great job balancing the various stories — watching each brother get a little closer to their goal, and then slipping in a reminder of what Alistair’s up to. Almost as if he’s saying, it really doesn’t matter how the Blackwoods do against these tasks, the Big Bad is out there waiting, and they’re not reading for him. There’s good character development, some good plot progression — and you can feel things going worse for the brothers, and that it’ll continue in that fashion for a while — until sometime in book 5, is my guess. Now it’s just a matter of hoping that the three of them — and as many of their friends as possible – make it through to the finale.
I had a blast reading this — there’s really little about this series that I don’t enjoy (and those aspects are all just matters of taste, really). Volume 4 is on the top of my “Waiting impatiently for” list — just under Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. It’s a great series and The Last Cleric just served as another piece of evidence for that. I really recommend all of them.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author — which I greatly appreciate, even if it took me a few months to get to it. This gift did not influence my opinion beyond giving me something to have an opinion on.