Hayes nailed the character of Eska. I've mentioned before how in book one and two, she felt a little forced at times. Specifically, she often felt overly sweary. I’m no prude, but this felt overdone and repetitive to the point where it broke my immersion in the story. (Hayes has since gone back to book one and reduced the amount of swearing – which was ironically increased as part of a specific editing pass).
However, in the latter half of book two, Eska clicked into place for me. Here in book three, I felt like she was perfectly characterised. Whether that's simply me spending a lot of time with her as a reader, or because the author matured into a full understanding of her, I'm not sure. But either way, I'm happy it happened.
Shifting gears a little, one reason why I enjoyed this series came from how it explored similar literary devices to another great fantasy book: The Name of the Wind. Like Rothfuss’ masterpiece, The War Eternal is written in first person past tense, with Eska recounting her history (from presumably quite an old age). In previous books, this led to her foreshadowing many world shattering and important events. In this book, those events finally happen.
When you spend two books promising that a payoff will be great, you can risk under delivering. That wasn’t the case here. Rob executed (pun intended) brilliant payoffs that were world-shaking, character-quaking, and so much fun to read. Interesting secrets were revealed about the world that organically built upon clues dropped in earlier books in an satisfying way. I know from having talked to Rob that many of these payoffs were not intentionally foreshadowed in earlier books, but simply involved him picking up threads that he had subconsciously placed into the earlier narrative. As an author I particularly admire that. As a reader, it resulted in the series feeling incredibly organic.
Hayes has always been good at action scenes. But in this book he takes it to another level. Characters summon gods. Floating mountains tumble down from the sky. Buried cities rise from beneath the earth. All these moments felt awe-inspiring. Plus, they were never just fancy action set pieces, but also moved characters forward and developed them in complex ways.
While I hugely enjoyed this book, here’s one last nit-pick about the main antagonist: the Iron Legion. Despite the characters repeatedly failing to kill him, I felt that his ending was a too easy, and perhaps verged into the territory of a Deus ex Machina (for people who have read the book, you’ll know that’s a somewhat literal reference). Still, he was a well-developed character with sympathetic motives, and for the most part the resolution of his arc was quite satisfying.
There’s another character arc that was resolved extremely well: Josef’s. In book one, I didn’t enjoy him as a character. But in this book, he has possibly my favourite transformation. While I was hesitant at some of the things Rob did with this character in book two (namely, bringing him back from the dead), book three justifies – and celebrates – this decision.
This sounds weird to admit, but what I appreciate the most about this series was that it showed me how good indie fantasy can get. I know that sounds weird, considering that I’m an indie fantasy author writing an indie fantasy series. But I suppose even though I’m heavily involved in the indie community, my lack of exposure to self-pubbed series has left me with some stigma from the traditional publishing world (which states that if someone takes the self-published route, their books must be worse than something that has gone through one of the big five publishing houses). In some cases, I do think this is true. There are instances of indie authors throwing books out there with amateurish covers, no editing, and sloppy writing. However, what I’m most proud of with this series is how damn good it is. It stands head to head with every other traditionally published series I've ever read.
Now, I know it’s a bit condescending to say that to an indie author (and I know that from being an indie author). But still, I feel that this series has been an important milestone in my own appreciation of what indie fantasy can do. And in some ways, the fact that this book has gone through an indie publishing system may have contributed to the bravery of the author's choices. I'm not sure they would have been acceptable in a traditionally published context.
In summary, the War Eternal trilogy has cemented Rob Hayes's position within my top 10 authors of all time. The series has such an excellent balance of character, plot, and world building. More than that, it possesses that rare quality of having a deep emotional impact on me as a reader. When I was a kid, it was easy to get that from books. Now that I’m older and have read more, it’s harder to find that – so it’s very special when it arrives.
I was pleased to see in the back of this book that Rob plans to write more in the War Eternal universe. I’m eager to explore more stories here. However, don't be mistaken: the war Eternal Trilogy is a complete story, with an immensely satisfying conclusion that makes me eager to read Hayes's other books, and recommend him to readers looking for an addictive read.
Total War Eternal Series Ratings: