The situation at the beginning of the book is the worst it has ever been in the entire history of the Banished Lands. Asroth, the Demon-King of the Otherworld, has finally been freed and the scattered forces of the faithful must put aside their differences and unite if they have any chance of surviving. What follows is an insanely epic final act, with pages brimming with battles and a huge amount of feels that I am not ashamed to admit brought a couple of tears. It is a rare book that gets such a reaction from me and this is the second time Gwynne has done so, the other being when reading Wrath (I still have not forgiven him for that).
Over the course of the last two books I have grown attached to the series three main protagonists. Drem is still my favourite. His journey from trapper to renowned member of the Order of the Bright Star, and the friendships (both human and animal alike) he has formed along the way has been an absolute joy to read. What makes his story even more endearing is that he is not your usual hero. He is the embodiment of truth and courage. A true hero if there ever was one.
Whereas I have loved Drem’s story from the first time we met him trapping up in the Desolation with his father, it took me a while to become invested in that of the others’. But by Elyon did I become attached to all three by the end. The once hot-headed and rebellious Riv has embraced her true nature and in the process become an absolute killing machine, duel-wielding death from above. Her fight scenes are some of the series’ best. Riv also shows us the good and bad sides to the Ben Elim and the friendship she forms with one of the Banished Lands saga’s best known characters provides some moments that fans of The Faithful and the Fallen will no doubt treasure. Bleda also really comes into his own in the final book. The once cold-faced conflicted teen has become a courageous and cunning warrior king with an eye for strategy and tactics. Bleda literally lives in the saddle for most of the book and his arc provides some of the coolest and most intense moments. Another endearing aspect of both of these characters is the love they have for each other. Whereas before they allowed their relationship to be dictated by societal norms, that is no longer the case here. They will not let anything come between them, be it angel, demon or revenant.
One of the most interesting things about the second book, A Time of Blood, was the introduction of Fritha as a viewpoint character. The architect of Asroth’s return, she is no doubt a major villain that needs to be taken down, however, her character is fascinating and her reasoning for the things she does is justifiable in her world. In other words, she is a very likeable villain. Not only is her story compelling but it is also a window through which we get to see who and what Asroth actually is, and readers might be surprised by what they find. As a whole, A Time of Courage has some of the best characterisation in the entire saga. Unfortunately, it also has some of the weakest. We are introduced to a fifth viewpoint in that of Jin, once betrothed to Bleda and now the new Queen of the Cheren horse clan. Her vendetta against Bleda is the only thing that drives her, making her feel shallow compared to the rest of the viewpoint characters. It was a bit disappointing since Gwynne has proven himself an expert when it comes to characterisation, however, it did not sour my overall enjoyment.
Being the final book in the series and saga as a whole, Gwynne does not pull any punches when it comes to the action. In a way, A Time of Courage feels a little like a total war campaign. Armies are on the move, war councils are held and many battles are waged across the length and breadth of the Banished Lands. One such battle that happens in the first third is best described as the Battle of Winterfell done right. The final battle itself absolutely blow me away. It is two hundred pages long. Let me repeat that. Two hundred pages! And it is even bigger and more diverse than that of the Day of Wrath in The Faithful and the Fallen. I read through the entire battle in one sitting and loved every moment of it.
And with that it is time to say goodbye to the Banished Lands for the second and seemingly last time for the foreseeable future. By Elyon it has been one hell of a journey, one in which I have been fully immersed in since the first few pages of Malice. I will miss the world Gwynne has built, its rich lore and characters that inhabit it. Both the Of Blood and Bone and The Faithful and the Fallen series are some of the best epic fantasy has to offer and will always have a place in my top favourite fantasy series of all time. With that said, I am very excited to jump into Gwynne’s new series, The Bloodsworn Saga. If the cover of Shadow of the Gods is anything to go by, and with the knowledge that Gwynne is a master storyteller, I know I am in for an absolute wild ride.