I just spent some time rearranging my bookshelves, because this series has become one I desperately want in my living room. I want it to be one of the first series people see when they walk in my house. It’s now gracing a shelf with Harry Potter, The King Killer Chronicles, and Tolkien’s Middle Earth books. The Faithful and the Fallen has truly usurped A Song of Ice and Fire in my heart and mind, and has relegated my copies to the study. Remember when I said, “Move over, GRRM, because Gwynne is here to steal yo’ girl,” in my review of Malice? That’s literally what happened to my bookshelf. GRRM has been deposed, and has lost the game of thrones when it comes to bookshelf dominance.
“To my thinking, though, it's what happens before death that's important. All of us die. How many really live?”
This is a hard series to review without spoiling, so I’m going to refrain from mentioning any specific characters, though I long to do so. If you’ve read the books and would like to discuss, find me on Goodreads and I would be more than happy to discuss them with you. If you’re just picking them up and want someone to gush and mourn with you as you read, I’m your girl. But in the hopes of convincing others to read this marvelous series, I’m not going to get into specifics so that I don’t accidentally spoil them for anyone. I’ll instead be writing about what the books, this volume in particular, have made me think and feel as I journeyed through them.
"You speak of truth and courage. Forgiveness can be the greatest act of courage.”
What an emotional roller coaster this series was. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Gwynne made me laugh and cry and gasp as I read. I had actual nightmares about certain scenes; not because they were particularly scary or anything, but because I was so emotionally invested. There were so many characters that I cared deeply about, man and woman, beast and giant included. There were twists that I didn’t see coming. There were losses that blindsided me and victories that made me cheer, startling my husband in the process. GRRM has become infamous for killing off characters who were central to the story, but Gwynne made me care so much more about character deaths, because he made me care so much more about the characters.
"All feel fear, both the coward and the hero, and all those in between... it's what we do about it that counts."
I don’t know that I’ve ever read about a war whose outcome I cared more about than the God-War. This was the ultimate battle of good against evil, of courage in the face of overwhelming odds as others compromised their morals, of love and loyalty pitted against greed and selfish ambition. This final book was all about the final battle between the Ben-Elim and their Bright Star against the Kadoshim and their Black Sun. I won’t tell you which side prevailed, but I will say that the final battle was one of the most brutal and intense battlefield scenes I’ve ever read. This might not sound like the biggest compliment but I promise that it is; I was never, ever bored. During a battle scene that lasted roughly 150 pages, I never started skimming or wishing that it was over already. I was engrossed and invested and completely enthralled by every chapter of this book.
Within this book, we witness loyalties being tried and tested. Sometimes, loyalty is not enough once a person’s eyes are opened to the truth of the one they follow, and those loyalties are broken despite the pain such a decision brings to someone with honor. Other times, loyalties don’t shift so much as they expand to hold those whom they thought would forever be their enemy. When love is mingled with loyalty, it can’t help but expand. Love broadens; it does not narrow. And the love in this book is palpably real. We watch romantic love blossom, the love between friends strengthen, and the love for one’s home define. It’s moving to behold.
"This is not who I am. One act of darkness, of treachery. But also many of loyalty, too. Judge me by the sum of my deeds, not just the one mistake.”
Once again, I just have to say that one of my favorite aspects of this series is Gwynne’s beautiful renderings of relationships between man and beast. The animals of the Banished Lands have big personalities of their own, and their loyalty to the humans or giants they choose to love is beyond reproach. And man, can they be vicious. Other series have tried to craft relationships between man and beast, and some have succeeded. But none have succeeded as well for me as The Faithful and the Fallen. I’ll definitely never look at crows and ravens the same way again!
There is nothing Gwynne could have done differently to improve this finale, in my opinion. Yes, I would have loved for all of my favorite characters to still be living when I finished the final chapter, but their deaths added a poignant realism that would have been lacking otherwise. But this ending was epic and surprising and emotional and never felt rushed. I loved how humor and heartache and hope all intermingled in the final pages.
So far, I’ve recommended this series to eight members of my family. My dad is reading Malice right now, with my brother waiting next in line. I’m recommending TFatF to people who aren’t even fantasy fans because it was one of the most phenomenal stories I’ve ever consumed. If you like stories about good standing against evil, you should read this. If you like your books with lots of heart, please at least give this series a try. I expect to have to buy new copies of these four books in the years to come, because I foresee them being tattered and worn from being reread and lent out. I have no qualms about proclaiming The Faithful and the Fallen my favorite completed adult fantasy series that I’ve read so far. And I hope that you pick them up and love them just as much as I have.
“Truth and Courage!”