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Posted on 27 Feb 2014 in SFF |

DUNCAN LAY Wall of Spears: Empire of Bones, Book Three. Reviewed by Folly Gleeson

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wallofspearsAn intricate and well-plotted narrative, full of incident, ends the Empire of Bones trilogy with a flourish.

In this final book, the complex developments of the first two books in the Empire of Bones series are brought to the point of an epic battle. Wall of Spears opens with a virtuoso display of magic-weaver Sumiko’s sinuous grasp of strategic deceit. In terms of the deployment of armies, it is a three-way confrontation. The Elves of Dokuzen, the Velsh of the northern regions and King Ward’s armies of Forland face each other with various levels of strength and power. However, nothing is as simple as a straightforward battle here, for treachery, magic and emotional trauma are fiercely in play as well.

Sumiko has woven a plan of extreme complexity and sneaky intelligence. She has found a way to undermine those who are helping the Velsh by sowing distrust between them. She has also seduced Jaden, the Elder Elf, using magic as a form of erotic stimulation, and rendered him powerless. As well, she tries to use King Ward by making him grateful to her for some healing. She is vengeful, brutal, skilled and really a pretty fine example of manifest evil. Her aim is to conquer all regions, make slaves of all humans and become supreme power:

‘Kill them all,’ Sumiko ordered the clan leader. ‘Or you will join them. It is all the same to me. Or do you forget that your oath to the Elder Elf was on your life?’

‘No, High One.’ The clan leader bowed.

‘This is wrong. Elder Elf or not, it is not honourable to kill young ones!’ a warrior shouted, striding across to stand between Sumiko and the humans.

‘Have you forgotten what they did to us?’

The  warrior shook his head. ’We are not like them. We are better than they are. Let us show that.’

Sumiko gestured and another tree branch smashed into the warrior, spraying his blood across the humans he had tried to defend.

This book is richly peopled with interesting characters whose complex interactions mostly ring true. The four characters whose emotional development has been the backbone of the first books, Sendaku, Asami, Huw and Rhiannon, still provide the main warmth and incident in the story’s basic framework as they move to greater maturity and responsibility, but they are joined by others as well – Gaibun, Asami’s husband, and Sendaku’s children, for example – and King Ward’s conflicted relationships with his wife and sons are also explored.

The three subalterns, Caelin, Ruttyn and Harald, provide a humorous and humane counterpoint to the main characters, but they also illustrate the brutality of conflict. I could have done with fewer jokes about Harald’s mother-in-law and although the frequent references to stinking entrails and floors slippery with blood, and so on, do provide an exuberant emphasis to the horrors of the skirmishes and the war, for some readers this might be too much of a good thing. However, the writing is exciting, vivid and full of clever twists and devices.

Lay has finished his trilogy with an amazingly intricate and well-plotted narrative, full of incident and well-imagined flourishes. The ongoing mother-in-law joke is sweetly resolved.

Duncan Lay Wall of Spears: Empire of Bones, Book Three Harper Voyager 2014 PB 544pp $29.99

Folly Gleeson was a lecturer in Communication Studies. At present she enjoys her book club and reading history and fiction.

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