Note: Slight spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is a “parallel novel” in the excellent “Throne of Glass” fantasy series. This book focuses on a mission to Antica, capital of the Southern Continent, undertaken by Chaol Westfall and Nesryn Faliq. Their main goal is to gain military assistance for the struggle in the North. Their pursuit takes on increasing urgency when they discover evidence that the forces of evil – the Valg, led by Erawan – have already infiltrated Antica.
Chaol, 23, has a second goal besides that of convincing the Khagan and his heirs to lend their armies to help fight Erawan. Chaol is now paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. He would like to get the services of one of the renowned healers of Antica – home of the finest mortal doctors in the world, who possess magic and who, he hoped, could help him walk again.
Yrene Towers, 21, is the healer assigned to Chaol; she is one of the best, and in fact is the Heir Apparent to be named Healer on High. At first Yrene resents Chaol, because it was soldiers from his country of Adarlan who burned her mother alive. But she discovers that Chaol, in spite of his government position, is not at all the same as the men she hates.
Moreover, when Yrene puts her hands on Chaol’s back, she encounters an “echo in the bone” – magic not from this world. Chaol won’t talk about what happened to him though, and it stymies Yrene’s attempts to heal him:
“I need to get past that echo. Or beat it into submission enough to have space to work on you. …. This shadow, this thing that haunts you – your body. It will fight me every step of the way, fight to convince you to tell me to stop. Through pain. Do you understand what I am telling you?”
“That if you are to succeed, I will have to endure that sort of pain. Repeatedly. Do what you have to do.”
“‘And you,’ she said quietly. ‘You will have to fight it as well. It must be feeding upon something within you.’”
Indeed, darkness within Chaol does feed the parasite, giving it control. Yrene insists that Chaol has to acknowledge it and face it. He has to decide whether he wants to fight back. And therein lies the problem: Chaol isn’t so sure.
But Yrene works on Chaol nevertheless, and they literally go through hell together, which brings them closer.
Meanwhile, Nesryn has gone off on a reconnaissance trip with one of the Khagan’s heirs, Sartaq, commander of his father’s ruk riders. The sensation of flying over her country of origin on a ruk enchants her, as does Sartaq. And he, clearly, is attracted to Nesryn.
These developments are complicated by the fact that Chaol and Nesryn had an informal commitment to one another.
The four main characters discover much about each other, including the important realization of what they want in life and where they consider to be “home.” They also find out dark truths about the Valg, and the struggle for dominion over their world.
Evaluation: I think this is my favorite so far of the books in this series. The depiction of the developing relationships among the four protagonists is lovely, and the information that comes out during their quests explains much about what has happened in the previous books. Maas is a master of fantasy, or what one hopes and wishes is fantasy: her descriptions of the intentions of the evil Valg to change the world for the worse seem all too real at times.
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2017