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A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall

A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall
3.5
Book Name: A War in Crimson Embers
Author: Alex Marshall
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: December 5, 2017 (US) December 7, 2017 (UK)

A War in Crimson Embers is the third and final book in Marshall’s Crimson Empire trilogy that began with A Crown for Cold Silver. What started as a revenge tale grew into a world war and now finishes with an existential fight against a Lovecraftian army of devils. Concluding a trilogy is always a risky prospect: can the author successfully land the story? Considering Marshall’s ambition, atypical characters, and unique voice, it’s even riskier. This landing isn’t without some turbulence, but that makes this landing all the more satisfying when Marshall pulls it off.

At the beginning of A War in Crimson Embers, General Zosia and her five captains (her Villains), as well as the next generation of heroes and villains that have come into her orbit, have been scattered in the aftermath of a horrific battle that resurrected a dark magic. Zosia has returned to the capital she once ruled as queen and finds it descending into a clumsy and potentially violent revolution in the face of a complete power vacuum. General Ji-Hyeon has disappeared through a sinister gate, lost to an unknown, other world. Maroto has been captured by a demonic army hell bent on destroying the Crimson Empire and exterminating all its citizens. Sullen, Ji-Hyeon’s lover, works to rescue his uncle Maroto while also proving his worth to his hunter/barbarian mother. In a time of war, suspicion, and mistrust, Zosia and her Villains must reunite in time to convince the Empire to stand together against an invading horror.

As you can tell from this brief summary, A War in Crimson Embers has a lot of interrelated characters: Zosia, her Villains, and the next generation of heroes, friends, lovers, and enemies. Across chapters, Marshall jumps from POV character to POV character, braiding the story together. But, at times, the braid does get tangled and knotted as characters search for each other, just miss each other, disappear, and reappear. And yet I don’t think this story could have been told with fewer characters. An epic story requires an epic cast. Moreover, I can overlook some of the tangles because Marshall provides rich and complex internal stories of determination, shame, and redemption for characters at the heart of this series. Marshall’s characters are scarred, broken, and full of regrets. Yes, these characters perform the heroics and sacrifices we expect in an epic fantasy, but it’s those internal stories that I really appreciate, and it’s what makes those characters memorable.

In addition to memorable characters, Marshall also writes with a memorable voice. His stories are dark and sad and snarky. There’s a gallows humor (along with a lot of bad puns and sexual humor) that I have enjoyed across all three books. And although it has proven divisive, Marshall also puts modern slang in his characters’ mouths. I know this a love it or hate it thing, but I enjoyed it on its own and then when characters from different cultures adopt and blend different styles of slang and humor after hanging out together.

Because Marshall has to juggle a lot of plotlines, it also affects his pacing. It’s a little slow to start as all the characters scramble to reunite; it speeds through the big battle; and then it slows down again at the finish line to give everyone an epilogue (despite only the final chapter being officially marked as the epilogue). However, Marshall uses the buildup to explore those internal stories I described above. I enjoyed watching his characters make mistakes and experience bad luck. I can identify with characters when sometimes they learn and grow, and sometimes they beat themselves up over their mistakes. And yes, the wrap up is a bit long, giving his characters one last moment on the page, but even here Marshall offers a few last-minute surprises and twists. Oh, and Marshall excels at describing the creepy, gross, and unsettling homeland of the devils—it’s the first time in a long time I’ve had trouble reading during my lunch hour.

From the first installment, this has been an ambitious story. Marshall incorporates a lot of fantasy elements and characters in a surprising ways. He comes close to almost cramming too much into his stories. But he’s surprising and inventive, so while all the gears may not mesh perfectly, I have to give him big style points. He really goes for it. His trilogy is unique, different, funny, dark, and bittersweet. If you’re looking for a new grimdark series that isn’t the same brutal, bleak story you’ve read before, check out the Crimson Empire trilogy. I guarantee you’ll see things you haven’t seen before.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
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