All the wonder in the world cannot save a book or series from a bad ending. But the most wonderful and suitable ending can save a bad book. Not that there is anything bad about When Darkness Falls, the final entry in the Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. But oh, to finish it again, to read those last lines and close the book…it brings a smile to my face that lingers even as I type this. It’s a satisfying ending to an epic fantasy. You can even guess, given Lackey, that it’s a happy ending.
I don’t demand that my books end happily. Sure, I like a positive conclusion as much as the next person, but that doesn’t define whether the book itself is good or bad. To my mind, what matters more than it being a “happy” or “sad” ending is whether or not the ending suits the story. Is it logical, and does it obey the rules of the world we’ve invested our time into reading about? Does it conclude the characters’ arcs of growth and change? Has the conflict been resolved?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then the reader has almost certainly wasted their time. And I’m not talking about a midseries book, which may leave things undone in order to provide impetus for future adventures, I’m specifically talking about the final conclusion of a standalone or series. Even if the answer to all the aforementioned questions is “yes,” it’s not required that every person enjoy the book(s), but it does make it more likely.
I read Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper books a year or two back. I’d found the first volume in a used bookstore, and figured I’d give it a try. After all, I had store credit to spend. I had two impressions upon finishing the book. The first, was that I had been introduced to five fantasy races that were not based on Tolkien or anyone else’s work in any obvious way. That is to say, I couldn’t take one of Paul’s races and say “these are the elves” or “these are the halflings.” The second, however, was that Paul’s Christian imagery was…not subtle. I think it was even heavier-handed than C.S. Lewis, though I admit I was not yet ten years old the first time I read Narnia, and far less familiar with religious imagery.
Still, the story was engaging enough, and due to the very creativity I’d found, I was willing to invest in the other four books in the set. Many things were predictable based on the religious aspect, but the books were still well-written and again, they had those races that I’d never seen before. The conclusion to the series suited the quintet and if I chose not to retain the books, that was a personal choice. I do not and will not regret reading them and think they are good in and of themselves. They’re just not books I care to own, as I have no interest in rereading them. I was willing to overlook the unsubtle religious imagery once, but I know from experience that it’ll only become more obvious each time I return to those books.
Some people talk about the beginning of the book, of making the first sentence a memorable hook that will draw readers in. Some say that the first hundred pages of a novel are the strongeset, and that in order to truly judge the book you need to look beyond that…say to page 119. But I say that you can only know if you’ve wasted your time or not when you turn the last page and can decide if the conclusion fit the book you just read. If a smile lingers on your face, it was good. If you laugh aloud, it was good. If you get that shivery tingle running all through your body for a moment, it was good. If you are still thinking about it two weeks later, it was good. If you have any kind of strong, emotional reaction to the book, even if you decide to never touch it again, it was good.
Also, if war is a beast with an endless appetite, then armies are portable cities. I think that made more sense in my head, but I like it anyway. Welcome to Army City!
In case you thought the fun ended with the Obsidian Trilogy, guess again! The Enduring Flame Trilogy is the sequel, taking place a thousand and eight years after the conclusion of When Darkness Falls. The Phoenix Unchained, book one, also starts in Armethalieh, but this is a very different city from where Kellen and Cilarnen grew up. Our main characters are Harrier Gillain, the Portmaster’s son, and Tiercel Rolfort. It is interesting to note that the modern day relatives of Cilarnen’s friend Tiedor Rolfort have moved up in the world – Tiedor was Banished from the City and killed by the Outlaw Hunt because he was Mageborn from a Commons family. A nobody. Nowadays, the Rolforts are lesser Nobility (Mageborn). But there are no more High Mages, and Wildmages are rare and elusive creatures that may not always admit to their craft.
Probably the most fascinating aspect of the Enduring Flame is how the events of the previous books have become warped over the centuries into myth and legend. They swear by the Blessed Saint Idalia, idolize Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy, and revere Jermayan Dragon-Rider and Ancaladar Star-Crowned. This doesn’t even begin to get into the mess the legends have made of facts. Their myths would have you believe that Anigrel was Savilla’s son, traded for Idalia as if he were a changeling, and that it was the Endarkened who turned her into a Silver Eagle, instead of her own request of the Wild Magic.
Also, a thousand years have not helped Elves interact with humans any better than before. In fact, I’d say the Elves are worse off now than they were in Obsidian when it comes to such things.
The conclusion to The Phoenix Unchained always makes me laugh, even though I suspect it’s supposed to be taken a wee bit more seriously than I do. After all, we’ve been told that certain things only appear when needed, when events are at their worst. But the indignition! It overpowers the seriousness for me. Besides, there were hints about this particular reveal dropped throughout the book.
I feel slightly guilty about continuing with this series. Enduring Flame is…not nearly as good as Obsidian. And my Pile is tall enough that I need to move things if I want to watch TV in this room. But I wanted to continue the tale of the world. And laugh at how badly they screw up their own history.