Shepherd’s fourth and final book of the A Trial of Blood and Steel series does an excellent job of wrapping up an intense political and moral fantasy epic. Filled with ambiguity and battles ranging from all out warfare to one-on-one swordsmanship, the action driven pace is predictably fast. As Regent Balthaar Arosh marches across fractured countries intent upon “restoring” human ways whether it’s for the better or not, Sashandra Lenayin cannot help but feel her people’s plight. Humiliated and shamed, the majority of the defeated Army of Lenayin follow Sasha in her battle against the Regent but to pull it off, she must convince the isolationist Ilduur to come to her aid. Naturally, nothing is simple or straightforward in this strange contest pitting humans against a beneficial alien occupation.
While there is plenty of action throughout, the seemingly endless battle strategizing becomes tedious as it slows the story down more then necessary. The character development is excellent as additional background and history is provided to both main and secondary players with a few new ones thrown in to keep the story fresh. Sasha’s personal growth remains a central storyline as she struggles to overcome family history, an overwhelming personality and the demands of honor and duty. The many subplots are satisfactorily tied up by the end with enough ambiguity to be thought provoking although there is a slightly rushed feeling to it. Taken as a whole, this is an excellent finish to a strong series.
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