Serena’s Review: “Deathcaster”

39320115Book: “Deathcaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publication Info: HarperTeen, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: SPLINTERED ALLEGIANCE.

Warrior Alyssa ana’Raisa would do anything to protect her home, the Fells, and her legacy, the Gray Wolf Line. But as a prisoner of Empress Celestine, Lyss is forced to turn her fearsome talents as an army commander against her beloved homeland. Refusal would swiftly lead to her death, and her death would end the Gray Wolf Line.

ANCIENT DANGER.

In Lyss’s absence, Fellsmarch Castle swarms with intrigue, deception, and a primordial threat. Destin Karn, a Southern spymaster with a hidden agenda of his own, might be the queendom’s only hope of defeating the forces aligned against the Seven Realms… as well as the enemies within the castle.

THE DEADLY COST OF PEACE.

Review: While so far this series hasn’t lived up to the super high expectations I had from the previous series set in this world, I’ve still be quite enjoying it and looking forward to the conclusion. At the end of the last book, our main characters were all spread out across this world and each faced what seemed like insurmountable odds. There was a lot of ground to cover in this last book, and for the most part, I was pleased with how things were wrapped up!

As Celestine’s forces continue to grow, headed up by the unwilling Lyss, both the northern and the southern realms struggle to set aside their long-lasting war to meet this new threat. Her brother and a gang of fellows set out to rescue her, headed by the pirate lord, Evan, whom no one is sure is even trustworthy. And Jenna and Cas circle in closer, hoping to get their own chance at the Empress who has hunted them for so long. It is left to Hal and the spy master Destin to head off the brewing war on the home front. As their paths twist and cross, it becomes clear that no one really understands Celestine’s long-game and without knowing that, can they defeat her?

Overall, this was a very satisfying conclusion to the story. There were a lot of moving pieces on the board, and while I had predicted some of the resolutions that came to play, there were still quite a few surprises in store, including elements I hadn’t expected at all. The biggest surprise was Celestine herself and the driving force behind her history and quest. Given that this has been the big mystery at the heart of this series, I was gratified that in this area, at least, I hadn’t been able to predict the ending.

I do wish, however, that more time had been given to this reveal once it came about (this will be a recurring complaint). It’s only at the very end of the book that we discover the secret histories of many of our main characters. And then once we do, it all kind of just ends. With a huge mystery like this that has been laid out across four different books now and explains hitherto unknown histories of multiple main characters, I just feel like a bit more time is needed to really settle into what that revelation would even mean. As it stands, we are only in the head of one of the three when the truth comes out. We never really get to see how the other two react to or process this new information. And then the actual action of the climax itself felt very rushed. Again, for the big bad of the entire series, I wanted more than what we got in a few brief pages with a sudden end.

With this action taking up so little page time, much more time was spent on the internal war between the two realms. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, but it wasn’t what I expected. The story had seemed to be going more the dragon/zombie soldier route with Celestine at its heart. Instead, we had much more time spent on the maneuvers of various, vast armies and the internal politics of two different courts. These were all fun enough, but not what I had been expecting. The court politics, especially, went in a direction that I hadn’t anticipated at all. But in this same vein, the story introduced a new force of evil (or at least a new face for it) and that added yet another thing to be dealt with in a limited span of pages, leaving another storyline feeling oddly truncated.

As for our main characters, they were all given much to do and I was satisfied with all of their arcs. People’s views on this will vary depending on which characters interest them the most. I think it’s fairly well balanced, but my favorite few characters did end up with a bit more time and attention than some others. There were a lot of reunions to get through, including three romantic pairings who had been split up for several books now. Again, this is a lot of emotional ground to cover. Each was good enough on its own, but I also wanted more for all of them. In many ways, each of them were still left with pretty big question marks in the end. We get a couple of reunions about halfway through the book, but then never really check back in with them as a couple after events have played out. I’m still not clear on what was going on with another group. And the last, while given a bit more, I think, also had the biggest events hinging on their future, together or separately, and thus, again, needed significantly more time for it to feel resolved.

As you can tell, my biggest complaint about this book was the fact that there was simply too much to get done in a single book. I’m all for succinct writing and not adding bloat to a series, but there also comes a time and place where it’s best to admit that the story is better served by more page time, even if that means an additional book. It’s easy to see how this series would fall into that category. The sheer number of main characters, the scope of the conflicts playing out, and the nature of the villains at the heart of things leaves a lot of ground to cover. It would have been almost impossible to wrap it all up in a satisfying and thorough manner in one book. As it stand, I was still satisfied with the ending; there was just so much potential for it all to be just a bit more.

This is a bit of an aside, but I also found myself increasingly distracted by the fact that this was a YA series. On one hand, it’s great that there are so many fantasy novels being published in YA currently. But I also feel like there are YA fantasty stories that would have been vastly improved for having been, simply, adult fantasy. It almost feels like we’ve entered some strange reality where fantasy is almost always YA, except for a few notable exceptions. But this series? In so many ways, this is very similar to “Game of Thrones” in scope and nature. And given some detail and page length, two things that often come up with adult novels, this story would have been so much better.

Beyond that, it became very distracting trying to reconcile the nature of our characters as presented with the age they are supposed to be. Lyss and Hal are both supposed to be incredibly talented and respected military leaders. And yet they’re both teenagers. There’s no way you cut it that the timing of their age and the years it takes to gain both the skill and notoriety they are said to have can match up. Evan is a notorious pirate lord. Devan is a master spy. And those are just the first examples. It applies to every single one of our characters: given their age, they would not be where they are. Many YA books run into this problem, but it’s easier to ignore if it’s just a main character that is this strange exception (though this was one of my problems with “Throne of Glass,” too, so who knows). But when you have this huge cast of characters and they all play important roles in their various corners of the world, the credibility of it all begins to go down the drain fast. Obviously, this isn’t anything new for this book but for some reason it stood out more for me in this book.

Fans of this series will likely be happy with this book. Depending on who your favorite characters are, you may be a bit more or less happy than others, but I think they are all satisfying in their own ways. I do think the book would have been much better served had it been split into two books; there was just too much plot and too many characters for it all to be covered sufficiently in just the one story. As for the age thing, that was a personal distraction, but will likely not bother others. Overall, I preferred the first series in this world better, but I did end up quite enjoying this one as well and am looking forward to what Williams Chima does next!

Rating 8: Could have been better served with more page time or, better yet, more books, but a fun, satisfying series, in the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathcaster” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but the series as a whole should be on “What to read after George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire)?”

Find “Deathcaster” at your library using WorldCat!

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