Book 5 of Ann Aguirre’s Ars Numina series and it shows.
Plot: Callum McRae has been a monk for 15 years, because he doesn’t trust himself out in the real world, but the catastrophe in Ash Valley and its impact on the bear clam has forced him out of hiding and into leadership on the eve of a Golgoth army landing on the bears’ doorstep. And they don’t trust him to lead them to victory, if one is even possible against such overwhelming odds. On top of all this, a singer from Ash Valley randomly decided to join their convoy home, because she’s DECIDED that they’re going to be friends, and she didn’t really think through the whole… War business. And she’s tempting him to break 15 year old vows. Shenanigans ensue.
I should preface this by saying that I don’t gravitate towards religion either in stories or in the real world. I was not raised with faith and while I understand the appeal at an intellectual level, I don’t really get it, and I really don’t get people who make it their Whole Thing. I also fundamentally don’t agree with “love at first sight” as a concept, and see it mostly as a way for people to get obsessive, usually in a creepy way. So Callum’s motivations were really hard for me to understand, and that includes the change of heart necessary to move forward romantically with Joss, and Joss’ immediate and intense devotion to Callum.
Joss and Callum do actually work quite well together, in an olive theory sort of way. They seem very different to start, but it is precisely their differences that bring them together. Callum’s sobriety settles Joss’ need to perform the manic pixie dream girl trope and her positivity and compassion is a crucial balm to Callum’s cynicism. It’s a grumpy-sunshine trope but made believable.
Still, the story didn’t resonate with me like previous entries in the series did. This is the battle for Helms Deep. Like, sure it makes sense why this is happening and why it matters to the people involved, but like, if it makes a difference in the grand scheme, other than the Golgoth who are already very powerful have a few more weapons, I didn’t spot it. The same is true for this B plot going on with the drug trafficking and the writing generally, seeming to fluctuate between an Olde English affect and a completely modern one. Very underbaked. So the stakes felt a lot lower and the resolution underwhelming.