And with this, the final chapter (so far) in Kel’s story, we finally see our stoic fledging come into her own as Protector of the Small. I think this series maintains a tense, 4 star rating throughout, which is pretty impressive when I think of the number of trilogies/multi part books where I apathetically push through some middle bits to get to the Good Stuff. With these books, I found myself usually as intrigued by the middle bits as by the Big Stuff. In some cases, more so.
I’ll start off with the negative first. Unlike many other authors, Pierce doesn’t rely on chapter endings to generate cliffhangers. It was funny to notice how I would subconsciously brace towards the end of chapters, assuming that Daine would fly in with bad news or Scanran would leap over the wall or killing machines would be sighted on the horizon. It almost never was the case–chapters would end with Kel being her usual pithy self. But then when there was Action, it came oddly mid-chapter. Perhaps it’s an issue with the eBook, but without even a space break you’d switch suddenly from Kel deciding to do something quite major and then to a different third person POV, in a different location, just in the course of moving from one paragraph to another. It sapped some of the decisions from their weight, although as always there wasn’t really that much will-she-won’t-she when it comes to Kel and Duty.
Otherwise, I found myself entirely engrossed by the ongoing adventures of Kel, a brand new Knight of the Realm. She’s eighteen (18! At 18 I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive on my own, let alone be responsible for the lives of hundreds of refugees) and eager to prove herself. Her ability to think strategically and innovatively is no surprise, because we’ve seen it throughout four books. Her flaws are her own, and there’s clear character development–she loses her temper, even, and yells! Whether that’s the former or the latter for Yamani-trained (a thin stand in for Japanese culture) heroine depends on your enjoyment of seeing competent characters (especially female characters) finally exasperated at their loving if more dervish friends.
I also wonder if I’d enjoy/have enjoyed the Immortals series more having seen Daine/Numair’s relationship in these books. Kel is a reader stand-in–Daine is way too young for the old mage–to understanding their relationship when she seems them in action. I don’t think I’ll ever be super comfortable with any relationships where the age differential is large, due to the implicit power imbalance, but I found myself less uncomfortable by the end of this novel (like Kel).
And finally, the rationale behind why I wanted to read these novels to begin with: Kel’s relationship with her sexuality. Outside spoiler tags I’ll say that I enjoyed her journey as scripted by Pierce, even if it wasn’t planned as a Point. Under spoiler: [This is the answer from Pierce herself that prompted me to pick up these books:
I’ve gotten this question a lot over the years, and my response was always that I’m still thinking about it. And I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it for a long, long time. While I’ve been thinking, Kel has been living her life. While she’s been doing all the work, we’ve both discovered that she doesn’t really have the time for or interest in romance. Her inclination for it has faded as time goes on, and I have come to understand that she may in fact simply be uninterested in romance. She is now, anyway.
Kel has come to a space in her life where she finds that she’s not interested in romantic or physical relationships with anybody. Friendships yes, she thrives on friendships, and family-type relationships, but romantic ones leave her feeling confused. And the older Kel gets, the messier it all seems. She may have enjoyed kissing well enough when she did it, but lately, whenever the thought occurs to her it’s outweighed by all of the other things she could be doing with her time, and the interest fades soon enough.
In short, Kel is both aromantic and asexual.
It’s nothing to do with representation (for me), but everything to do with natural character progression. I love the idea of Pierce realizing that Kel has a bit of a mind of her own, and that while she’s thought about it it’s not like Kel’s spent the time waiting on the romantic/sexual side of things. Yes, she very much like kissing when she did it! And she can want to do it again, and when she does she’ll be able to, but she’s also comfortable…not. Excellent job in retconning a character to a new label in a way that seems entirely reasonable and not hamfisted.]