I love this series. I *love* this series. When I sat down to write this review, I thought I have probably run out of things to say about this series. I reviewed book one and book two with an almost embarrassing amount of gush about the pacing of the story and character development. This is the final book in this series, though the whole story is set before the stories in the Twelve Kingdoms which I will be picking up after (and have vague recollections of?).
All the things I said in previous reviews still apply so instead, I want to talk about what the story does uniquely.
Jenna, or Ivarial as she becomes, has been through a lot. The thing we see most vividly in the first book is the violence of her new husband and her family’s complicitness in that violence. Those experiences scar her, as they would anyone. What I absolutely love about her journey though, is that she isn’t defined by it, something that even she has to come to realize.
Across these books, you see her transform from a frightened child that sits in the dark and waits for a rescue to a leaders who rescues others. You see her transform from a person that sees nothing beyond their personal achievements to the mark they are leaving on the world. And I say transform because while a lot of books attempt this sort of arc, it is rare, at least for me, to feel like I am seeing genuine change. Usually, these changes happen over the course of a couple conversations where someone yells at the person that they’re selfish or that they shouldn’t hate themselves or something as if such nonsense works, and the reader just has to swallow that, well, I guess it worked in this case, since the plot demands it. You see Ivarial think through new information, digest it through the information she already has, make incorrect judgements and have to be righted. You see her backslide, get triggered and be frightened of not only the trigger but her own reaction. You see her learn new skills, and then be scared of the person she’s becoming. You see her learn to trust others, yes, but more importantly, herself.
And because this is narrated in the first person, and narrated in such detail that it often felt like I was reading an autobiography rather than a fiction, that these failures and successes feel all the more meaningful.
The other thing I want to mention which is mostly specific to the last book is the way the author portrays animals. The last two books are spent in close proximity to elephants, and unlike most stories that deal with animals, particularly wild animals, these books give each elephant its own personality. Indeed, a big part of the story is the elephant Efe, who has a similar history of being in chains and learning how to trust people and herself again. The elephants aren’t magical, anthropomorphic heroes and they aren’t mindless beasts. It is really, really lovely. The other characters likewise get a personality and feel real, even though it isn’t their story and don’t really have arcs of their own. There are other books that do right by their secondary characters though, is it isn’t quite as unusual as the non-human secondary characters getting a fair shake.
This series is lovely. You should read it (but read my first book review for tw first).
And consider buying some books, like these. Creatives are having a real hard time right now.