The Iron Circlet by Phil Tucker
|Book Name:||The Iron Circlet|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Release Date:||July 28, 2017|
Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for books 1 – 3 of the Chronicles of the Black Gate series. Please read with caution if you’ve yet to finish the first two, just in case The Iron Circlet’s cover had you buying the books out of order.
The Iron Circlet’s cover reveal came around late March of last year, and not having read the stories yet, I assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. In my various Facebook groups, fantasy fans were torn between those who had followed the Chronicles of the Black Gate, and those who had not; with the latter invariably being unimpressed by the kitty cuddled up against a pudgy, bespectacled man.
He was hardly the paragon of epic fantasy, like the Elric-looking Asho on the cover of The Path of Flames; the fiery redhead Kethe of The Black Shriving; or the fearsome kragh warlord, Tharok in The Siege of Abythos (where the kragh are confirmed to be orcs). In one Facebook comment, a fan defended the choice with, “That is the beloved Magister Audsley.”
And indeed, Audsley is adorable. He steals the show from the first time we experience The Path of Flames from his perspective, with his Queen of England narrative voice, combined with his love of his firecat and his thirst for knowledge. The trials and tribulations he faces in the first three books set him up for unenviable, world-changing choices in The Iron Circlet.
Ah, where to start with the Iron Circlet, for which this book is named. While Tucker’s long game for this doesn’t quite match GRRM’s R+L=J, it is still impressive how he strings along our curiosity as to this artifact’s history and purpose. At the end of book three, it speaks to Tharok, pretty much confirming that like many of the other magical items in this world, a demon is contained within. Clearly, it has its own agenda in pushing first Ogri the Destroyer, then Tharok to attack the Ascendant Empire. While not everything about the circlet is answered in this story, we do find out it has a larger purpose, beyond turning Kragh into Napoleonic astrophysicists.
We also find out more about Ascendancy. Although I would say the worldbuilding is not as detailed as the first three books, it still feels lush enough to make the world feel real. Many of the intriguing questions from the first three books are answered, like the fascinating source of the black potion which extends Virtues’ lives and healed the Ascendant’s Grace. The history of the world comes into focus, and as I suspected, we learn that some, if not much of the timeline did not occur as we’d been told up to now. I got to find out if my theory about the Yin-Yang nature of the White and Black Gates was true, and even that had a little bit of surprise.
In book three, we got to visit Alethea, Bythos, and Abythos. In book four, we finally travel to Audsley’s hometown of Nous, the city of towers rising out of the sea; and also enter the kragh’s own spirit world. In book one, we saw a dragon corpse, and by book four, we find out where dragons hang out. We also get to meet the Ascendant, who acts and speaks like The Old One from Doctor Strange (and looks a little like Aang from The Last Airbender).
To me, the wondrous part of The Iron Circlet (the book, not the item) is the shifting alliances, as necessitated by changing goals and situations. If the characters’ conflicting objectives challenged your loyalties to people you came to love in the previous stories, then you will not be able to put the book down as many of these characters come into direct, deadly conflict.
Clearly coming closer together in book two, and torn apart in book three, Kethe and Asho begin book four at opposite ends of Ascendancy’s dogma: her, becoming more comfortable in her skin as the Virtue Makaria; him, developing into a powerful sincaster. After all of the amazing fights and battles in The Iron Circlet, wait to you see where they stand at the end in the climactic throw down.
Despite my overall enjoyment of The Iron Circlet, I felt the ending to be unsatisfying. Since getting healed from grievous wounds by the Medusa at the end of book two, Tharok has been plotting to kill her, before she takes over his people and transforms their culture. With the iron circlet on his brow, I expected great things and was somewhat disappointed.
Another frustration for me surrounds the iron circlet. I love the idea of it: like the One Ring, it has been lost, only to be found by someone who doesn’t understand its importance. While much about it is answered, we still don’t know who made it, and for what purpose. Is it tied specifically to a certain group of demons, or all demons in general? I hope these questions are answered in book five.
In my review of The Siege of Abythos, which I felt to be close to perfection, I allowed Mr. Tucker to Ascend to Sigean. I don’t feel The Iron Circlet warrants further Ascension, so he is stuck at that level for now. On my objective, secret score sheet, I rate it 8.834 stars.
After Note: As with the first three books, I listened to The Iron Circlet’s audiobook, narrated by Noah Michael Levine. He never fails to disappoint with his cadence and accents. That said, some parts of book four sounded like the audiobook narrator for Eragon’s voicing of the dragon Saphira, a story which left me emotionally scarred.