Warning: Will contain spoilers for previous books in the RAVEN’S SHADOW series
Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW series follows the life of Vaelin Al Sorna and his comrades, from his childhood in the religious, militaristic 6th Order to his career as a general, commander, and practitioner of the Dark (magic). Queen of Fire, the third and final book of RAVEN’S SHADOW, brings the series to a conclusion that leaves much to be desired. Following the victory at Alltor orchestrated by Vaelin, Queen Lyrna, the new leader of the Unified Realm after the bloody assassination of her brother, proceeds to invade the Volarian Empire, which has been controlled by the Ally for centuries. At the same time, Vaelin sets off north to find ancient secrets that may reveal the mind of the Ally, a mysterious being who loathes humanity for its flaws and seeks to destroy all human civilization. While there is an interesting premise in RAVEN’S SHADOW, the execution is simply not present to make the series amazing, as Greg noted in his review of Blood Song, book one.
A major sticking point was the prose and style present throughout the series. Ryan’s writing comes across as artificial. Often the rhythm has imperfections, which had large implications for the flow of the story. In particular, the dialogue sounds unreal, and that made the characters feel shallow. Beyond the prose, Ryan sometimes delves into arguably irrelevant minutiae in the midst of what would otherwise be captivating action scenes, in a manner reminiscent of the Iliad. An occasional misstep could be overlooked, but the frequency of these occurrences is such that it was difficult to finish Queen of Fire because the plot felt dull and unengaging.
A number of structural issues add to the overall tediousness, many of them beginning with book two, Tower Lord. To be fair, Blood Song was enjoyable — the rest of the series thus far has been going downhill from there. Most of the structural issues are discussed in more detail in my review of Tower Lord, but the move away from using Lord Vernier’s story as a framing device, as it was in Blood Song, diminishes the depth and foreshadowing elements.
Additionally, Queen Lyrna’s steady conquest of the Volarian Empire feels rushed and illusory. If Ryan wanted to aim for a more military, gritty novel, such as those of Django Wexler or even Glen Cook, there needed to be more discussion of military strategy, more focus placed on the non-magical portions of the plot, and more dark imagery.
At the end of the day, Queen of Fire just needed to be more thoughtfully written. There are some intriguing ideas in the RAVEN’S SHADOW series, but I can’t see myself recommending this series for just that. Anthony Ryan definitely does have potential, though, and I will keep an eye out for his future works, which hopefully will find more success.
So, basically, read the first one and stop there?
Pretty much. I wouldn’t prioritize Blood Song too much in your to read stack either, since Greg couldn’t finish it.