The Siege of Abythos by Phil Tucker
|Book Name:||The Siege of Abythos|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Release Date:||March 20, 2017|
Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for books one and two of the Chronicles of the Black Gate series. Please read with caution if you’ve yet to finish the first two. But, you HAVE read them, right?!?
I took pages of copious notes while listening to and reading The Siege of Abythos, book three of Phil Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate. But I just finished and am too overcome with the excitement and emotion of the climax to start with my original declaration for this review: The religious dogma of Ascendency, which I believed as a matter of faith in this world at the start of Path of Flames, and questioned from the middle of that book through most of book three, is false.
MS Word tells me that first sentence is 88 words long, but even that mouthful doesn’t begin to encompass the brilliance of The Siege of Abythos.
I had also planned to start my review with my complaint that despite the title, fifty-some chapters in, there was no sign of a siege.
Oh, is there ever a siege.
Not just of Abythos, the gateway to the Ascendant Empire from Kragh lands, but of the capital city of Aletheia, as planned in book two. It’s well worth the wait, as you wonder who will live and who will die. Not all your favorites will survive, and as was the case in the first two books, you will probably have mixed loyalties as you root for Asho, whose plans conflict with Kethe’s; whose loyalties might no longer mesh with her mother Iskra’s; whose goals no longer mean anything to Tiron’s; and who all are up against Tharok.
Whew, time to take a breath, which if you had just read the end of book three, you would need to, too.
So, now back to the original premise of my review, which is that the dogma of Ascendency is just a tool for control. Of course, just three books in, this is only my reader theory; but our favorite Kragh Warlord, Tharok, pretty much lays out how religion can be used to manipulate followers, and even goes about creating his own to those ends.
Tharok isn’t the only fictional L. Ron Hubbard, either. As with the previous two books, the worldbuilding in this installment is deliciously detailed, and we start The Siege of Abythos at polar opposites: the slave mines of Bythos, and the stone cloud of Aletheia. As our heroes go about their individual missions, we are steeped deeper into the culture that Ascendancy propagates, and learn just how deeply it is ingrained, even in those it subjugates.
The contrast of these two societies at the opposite end of ascension is marvelous. The black market and crime syndicates that operate within the enslaved population of Bythos is reminiscent of mafia and triads that subjugated but also supported immigrant communities in America; and we experience it through the eyes of Asho, now an outsider to his own people, as he navigates this minefield, all the while being torn between his loyalty to Iskra and his love for his sister Shaya.
Magister Audsley is no stranger to being a fish out of water, the awkward scholar always fought to fit in among the knights and warriors; but in book three, he must face a new challenge in the pretentious upper class of Alathea. A reader cannot help but to hold Tucker’s creation of this society in awe: from the subtle symbolism of colors in the layers of robes someone wears, to the metaphorical language reminiscent of Chinese proverbs (real ones, not the kind you get in fortune cookies), and poetry duels that put epic rap battles in downtown L.A. to shame. If you saw Sokka’s haiku fight in the Last Airbender, yeah, it’s that awesome.
These societies, as well as Agerastos, serve as a stage for our beloved characters. Many of us watched with bated breaths as romantic couples formed by the end of The Black Shriving: Iskra and Tiron, and Asho and Kethe. Yet, with three books to go, they could not yet enjoy a Happily Ever After ending. Instead, duty tears both couples apart, but with that comes new strength of character and power.
Of those, Iskra has become my favorite. Her goals evolve and transform with tragedy, and she comes out the nobler and more heroic for it. Though not a warrior, she is like Wonder Woman’s Etta Candy: “Fight? We use our principles. Although, I’m not opposed to engaging in a bit of fisticuffs, should the occasion arise.” This is encapsulated in her marriage to and confrontation with the Emperor of Agerastos, who has his own White Whale to slay. When he points out that people who did not take up arms against him are still complicit because of their faith and taxes, it could just as well be the message of modern day extremist groups. And yet, she perseveres against his reasoning.
Other startling revelations begin to unravel the religious and historical framework established in the first two books. We learn more about demons and where they come from. And given that book two explains how demons power magical artifacts, I have long suspected Ogri’s (now Tharok’s) Iron Circlet might have one captured within. It may or may not have its own agenda, as well. The same could be said about the demons inhabiting Audsley’s mind.
In my review for book one, I cast Tucker through the Black Gate for his blasphemy; but pulled him into Bythos for book two. For the beautifully crafted, exceptionally executed storytelling in The Siege of Abythos, I considered allowing him to Ascend to Aletheia, but I would worry his poetic skills might get him cast out of polite circles. Instead, I will allow him to Ascend to Sigean, and rate The Siege of Abythos 9.99997 on my ultra-secretive, utterly objective rating scale. No, I’m not holding a grudge over the Heart of Gold.
Afternote: Major kudos to Noah Michael Levin’s voice talents in bringing The Siege of Abythos to life in the audiobook.
Second Afternote: I have to applaud Tucker for humanizing trolls and wyverns. Often seen as mindless, evil, brutes in fantasy fiction, they are given an emotional depth as yet another non-human, Tharok, works his mind control over them. I am henceforth adopting the hashtag: #TrollsArePeopleToo.