DARKFALL is the grand finale of the Rhenwars Saga and it's nice to have a series which ends properly even if the ending is bittersweet. M.L. Spencer is one of the new voices in dark fantasy (which I use when talking non-pejoratively about grimdark fiction). She doesn't use violence or swearing to win her accolades but a persistent deconstruction of the traditional heroic narrative.
The premise of the series is that a ragtag band of heroes tried to save the world a 1000 years ago and failed miserably. Instead, the world has been divided into a dark and depressing hellscape as well a picturesque Gondorian paradise. You'd think this would be an easy set up for a conflict between the "good" people from the pretty lands and the bad people from the pseudo-Mordor, right? Wrong. It's much more like George R.R. Martin's Wildlings versus the North except the Watch equivalent are mages. Except in this universe, Jon Snow defects to join the side of the Wildlings and they really are going to butcher as many people as necessary to.
For the past few books, we've watched the main character of Darien struggle with his loyalties. Darien has resolved that conflict and has now decided to go 100% #TeamDarklands. The problem is that it was never about serving one side absolutely and all he's done is become a monster in service to a new cause versus recognizing the humanity of both sides. However, the other side is #TeamLightlands and the only thing this is going to accomplish is get more people killed.
Darien is a character who has had a magnificent and complicated journey from plucky hero to deranged fanatic. It's wrong to simply term him as a villain, though, even when he's planning on massacring every survivor of the villages he conquers in order to make sure there's enough food for his army of refugees. His decisions are irrational but he's certain he's making the most logical plans he can as both PTSD as well as stress have worn him to the quick.
On the other side of the conflict is Kyel, who has become the mage Darien tried to be but refuses to cross the line and break his Oath of Harmony (no killing with magic). This despite the fact he's leading a massive army to exterminate the Darklanders. Kyel is the more traditionally heroic of the two but he's surrounded by people with absolutely no honor who, ironically, don't trust him because he thinks of the Darklanders as people.
There's a third faction of individuals trying to figure out a way to deal with the "Convergence" that is coming around for a second time and potentially will render the entire war moot. I, personally, like their story most as I was always fond of its characters and don't feel comfortable spoiling all of the twists as well as turns there. It does, however, nicely illustrate the healing power of revenge. Really, what can you say about a story where murdering your closest ally in saving the world is a legitimate means of doing good?
The series end on a bittersweet note which foregoes the nihilism of Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy and is more akin to Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire. Some measure of redemption is achieved by a few characters while the majority of the cast doesn't make it out of the finale. It's a lot harsher than the Lord of the Rings but, ironically, I think honors its Tolkien inspiration better than most. War is a traumatizing and soul-destroying activity that never fully is recovered from. It remembers Frodo dies of a broken heart (Journey to the West aside).
In conclusion, this is an epic ending to an epic series. Whatever her future works, M.L. Spencer has created something that I believe deserves to be read by fantasy readers throughout the world. The characters are beautifully illustrated, tragic, and well-realized. The action is amazing and full of amazing feats that would make a blockbuster movie. The morality is also ambiguous but makes real and solid points. The world-building is simple but always consistent with revelations about its structure until the last. Read this series. You won't be disappointed.
THE TOME OF BILL series by Rick Gualtieri is a guilty pleasure of mine. Much like my Supervillainy Saga books, they're a lot of nerd references with a semi-serious take on the supernatural. Unfortunately, the books have an oft-putting quality to them due to Bill's causal use of sexist, homophobic, and abelist remarks (he constantly refers to Sally as a b*** for example). Indeed, those are a good reason not to buy them even though I otherwise enjoy the series.
I was a huge fan of Nicholas Eames' KINGS OF THE WYLD and wasn't alone in my fandom. The combination of a traditional Dungeons and Dragons' esque high fantasy story with THIS IS SPINAL TAP was such an electric combination that it topped a lot of the "Best of 2017" lists, including my own. About it's only competition that year, in my opinion, was THE GREY BASTARDS and KINGS OF PARADISE.
DEVIL'S NIGHT DAWNING by Damien Black is a dark fantasy story set in a European-esque setting afflicted by demons, a generational blood feud, and a young woman who discovers running away from an arranged marriage is not as easy in the story books. This was a highly entertaining read and I found it to be one of my favorites of 2018. The book did have some criticisms but it's a solid piece of fantasy straight from the independent circuit.
THE CAMARILLA (sourcebook) is an incredibly flawed book that would have otherwise been a 4/5 if not for one incredibly ill-conceived chapter (plus many editing errors) that I think needs to be removed. But we'll get to that. Actually, no, it's probably best to get it out of the way before anything else. The Camarilla (sourcebook) contains a chapter devoted to describing Mordor meets Latveria. There's a murderously evil little country ruled by a vampire dictator which is rounding up all the gays and other innocents to be vampire snacks. Here's the problem, it's a real country. You know, you can describe Montreal as a Satan-worshiping hellhole, that's actually funny. It's considerably less funny when it's a real country.
THE ANARCH (SOURCEBOOK) is the first supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade's controversial but awesome Fifth Edition. Anarchs have always been something of the middle child of the setting due to the fact they get almost no respect from people who assume they're either part of the Camarilla but whiny poseurs or they're Sabbat-lite in that they're against the Elders but won't go to the extremes necessary to affect real change.
NEMESIS GAMES is the fifth book in the Expanse series, which is about humanity 200 years in the future when we've managed to colonize the rest of the solar system. Humanity is divided into Earthlings, Martians, and Belters with varying degrees of oppression. A mysterious alien object called the protomolecule has changed the balance of power between them and opened up new possibilities to visit other star systems.
BONE CROSSED is the fourth novel of the Mercy Thompson series, which is one of my favorite urban fantasy series along with THE DRESDEN FILES and THE HOLLOWS series. However, whereas I have some issues with the latter two, I have to say the Patricia Briggs novels are consistently one of the most entertaining urban fantasy on the market today.The books aren't without flaws but they serve as mental comfort food when you just want to sit down and enjoy a story of a clever protagonist versus this weeks' monster. Mercy Thompson is a relatively weak superheroine with minor powers and that makes encounters with more dangerous supernaturals all the more intense.
HARRY STUBBS is back and fighting the Great Od Ones again! The adventures of a early 20th century London boxer and amateur detective remains one of my favorite Cthulhu spin-offs. It's a series of well-researched detective stories which are more interested in the occult secret societies, weird history of London, and cultists versus the actual supernatural weirdness so many other stories deal with. In simple terms, it's more The 9th Gate versus Friday the Thirteenth in how it compares to most stories.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and its sequel THE VAMPIRE LESTAT remain the two best vampire novels ever made, IMHO. I know the series continues on for a dozen books afterward but, I'll be honest, with the exception of MEMNOCH THE DEVIL I don't think any of them ever rises above "good" while the first two will always be great. Far be it me to criticize one of my all time favorite authors but at some point, Anne Rice forgot that being a vampire was ultimately tragic. Given the third book had them fighting a millennia old omnicidal Pharaoh, I think we can say that was when the series lost its way (but still had some cool bits).