fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsepic fantasy book review David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 3. The Sacred BandThe Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham

The most pleasant surprise about The Other Lands, the previous book in the ACACIA trilogy by David Anthony Durham, was that it broadened the scope of the series tremendously. Ushen Brae, the setting for a large part of the action in that book, proved to be a complex and interesting place, with its non-human Auldek tribes, several strata of human Quota slaves (from a warrior caste to an organized “Free People” resistance movement), the mostly extinct Lothan Aklun race, and a rich and fascinating history. The Sacred Band doesn’t expand the series’ fantasy world to the same extent as The Other Lands did, although it does reveal some inland areas of Ushen Brae that were previously unseen. Rather than expanding the world, The Sacred Band instead builds on what came before, reveals a few new and interesting details, and brings the various plot lines to a satisfying conclusion that, at the same time, leaves the door open for possible future stories set in this world.

As The Other Lands ended, the Known World seemed poised on the brink of climactic change. Queen Corinn’s magic had grown stronger and stronger, culminating in the shocking resurrection of her brother Aliver. The newly freed Santoth were on their way north, claiming that Corinn’s magic posed a threat to the world. The League of Vessels still had its claws in various plots, despite the failure of its Ushen Brae gambit. Mena had been given a task that seemed impossible and borderline suicidal: halt or at least slow the advance of the Auldek, who were marching across the frozen north with a huge army to invade the Acacian empire. And Dariel was still in Ushen Brae with the Free People, who thought he might be their savior, the Rhuin Fá.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDoes The Sacred Band bring all of these threads to a satisfactory conclusion? Yes, with the caveat that your level of satisfaction with this series closer will depend on how sensitive you are to the issues that plagued the previous books. My chief complaint is still that David Anthony Durham occasionally relies on highly improbable coincidences and surprise revelations to advance his plot. I’m staying intentionally vague to avoid spoilers here, but in The Sacred Band there’s one major instance where an (up to that point) unknown ability miraculously and completely turns the tide. It’s really a shame that an otherwise well-written and original fantasy series has to resort to this, because it tarnishes its many positive aspects.

Aside from this, The Sacred Band is easily the strongest novel in the trilogy. By now, both the characters and the fantasy world have acquired a surprising amount of depth. On the Acacian side, there’s a melancholy atmosphere throughout the early parts of the book, as characters lead their lives with the knowledge that their world is about to change drastically. If they felt that they were more or less in control in the last book, they now become more and more aware of how untenable the situation really is. Meanwhile, the Auldek army is advancing, and their chapters reveal a few more surprising sides to the Auldek culture. And as the various plots advance, we also learn more details about the League of Vessels, who continue to play a complex game, and about the Free People and their history. All through the novel, Durham advances the plot while still occasionally revealing new layers of his fantasy world.

In the end, The Sacred Band is a rewarding book because it shows some of its major characters finding their destinies in ways that have considerably more resonance than anything that came before in the series. I think it’s safe to say that, if you’ve been following these characters’ story arcs with interest, you’ll be surprised, occasionally shocked, and ultimately satisfied with the way their stories come to an end. This trilogy started out with characters that were little more than templates, but puts them through so many changes and evolutions that, by the end, they’ve become unrecognizable and infinitely more interesting.

Looking back, I feel that the ACACIA trilogy has steadily been getting better as it progressed. Acacia: The War with the Mein had an uninspired start, but improved significantly after the end of its first section. The Other Lands added a whole new dimension to the fantasy world and continued to grow and evolve the characters in surprising ways. And as I hoped and expected, The Sacred Band continues this trajectory and delivers a worthy finale that more than makes up for some of the bumps along the way. If you enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy, this is practically a must-read.

~Stefan Raets

epic fantasy book review David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 3. The Sacred BandABOUT THE SACRED BAND: With Acacia: The War with the Mein and The Other Lands, the first two books in the Acacia trilogy, David Anthony Durham created a vast and engrossing canvas where the surviving children of a royal dynasty are struggling to find their place in a world full of turmoil.

As The Sacred Band begins, Queen Corinn Akaran looms over the Known World because of her mastery of spells found in the ancient Book of Elenet. Meanwhile, her younger brother Dariel has been sent on a perilous mis­sion to the Other Lands, as her sister Mena travels to the far north to confront an invasion from the feared Auldek. Their separate trajectories will converge in a series of world-shaping, earth-shattering battles that will realize the Akarans’ fates — and perhaps right ancient wrongs once and for all…

CLASSIFICATION: The Acacia trilogy is epic fantasy fueled by compelling characters, realistic world-building and powerful storytelling. The series contains elements reminiscent of George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Brian Ruckley, but the series is defined by Durham’s unique historical fiction-influenced viewpoint.

FORMAT/INFO: The Sacred Band is 576 pages long divided over four Books, 73 numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes a map of the Known World and the Other Lands and a detailed summary of the first two books in the trilogy. Narration is in the third person via several different characters including Corinn Akaran, her brother and sister Dariel and Mena, Corinn’s councilor Rialus Neptos, the leaguemen Sire Dagon, Barad the Lesser, Aliver’s former companion Kelis of Umae, Corinn’s informant Delivegu Lemardine, Mena’s husband Melio Sharratt, and a few others. The Sacred Band is the third and final volume in the Acacia trilogy after Acacia: The War with the Mein and The Other Lands. It goes without saying that readers should finish the first two books in the Acacia trilogy before attempting to read The Sacred Band.

October 4, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Sacred Band via Doubleday. A UK edition has not been announced yet, but the first two volumes of the trilogy were published by Transworld.

ANALYSIS: Over four years ago, David Anthony Durham burst onto the fantasy scene with Acacia: The War with the Mein, the impressive opening volume in the Acacia trilogy. This was followed by The Other Lands in 2009, a respectable middle volume that was slightly disappointing compared to its predecessor but set the stage for a potentially awesome conclusion to the trilogy. Which brings us to The Sacred Band.

In the third and final volume of the Acacia trilogy, readers can expect a conclusion that not only fully answers questions about Tinhadin, the Santoth, the Song of Elenet, the League, the Lothan Aklun and the Auldek, but resolves major conflicts in a manner that was satisfactory, and occasionally surprising, while successfully wrapping up the trilogy’s numerous storylines — Elya and her children, the Free People of Ushen Brae and the Rhuin Fá, Corinn’s son Aaden and Aliver’s daughter Shen, the mist, the Numrek, et cetera.

Along the way, readers can also expect another well-written novel from David Anthony Durham, highlighted by accomplished prose, rich characterization, morally ambiguous characters, creative world-building that reflects real history and social issues — slavery, forms of government, racial tensions, etc. — and an imagination that breathes new life into such classic fantasy tropes as dragons, prophesied heroes and war.

At the same time, The Sacred Band suffers from the same lethargic pacing issues that I had with The Other Lands. In this case, however, I realized the pacing of the novel and its emphasis on characterization closely resembled Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. Once I made that connection, I cared less about the book’s pacing and focused more on the characters and their compelling narratives: Corinn dealing with the pressures of leadership and trust issues, Rialus Neptos’ struggle for redemption, Dariel fulfilling his destiny, Mena’s warrior spirit, and so on.

CONCLUSION: Considering everything that occurred in the first two volumes, The Sacred Band had a lot riding on its shoulders. Thankfully, David Anthony Durham was more than up to the task, delivering a rewarding conclusion in The Sacred Band that successfully wraps up the Acacia trilogy.

~Roberth Thompson

Acacia — (2007-2011) Available from Audible. Publisher: Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World, has inherited generations of apparent peace and prosperity, won ages ago by his ancestors. A widower of high intelligence, he presides over an empire called Acacia, after the idyllic island from which he rules. He dotes on his four children and hides from them the dark realities of traffic in drugs and human lives on which their prosperity depends. He hopes that he might change this, but powerful forces stand in his way. And then a deadly assassin sent from a race called the Mein, exiled long ago to an ice-locked stronghold in the frozen north, strikes at Leodan in the heart of Acacia while they unleash surprise attacks across the empire. On his deathbed, Leodan puts into play a plan to allow his children to escape, each to their separate destiny. And so his children begin a quest to avenge their father’s death and restore the Acacian empire — this time on the basis of universal freedom.

fantasy book reviews David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 1. Acacia 2. The Other Lands fantasy book reviews David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 1. Acacia 2. The Other Lands fantasy book reviews David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 1. Acacia 2. The Other Lands 3. The Sacred Band


  • Stefan Raets

    STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping.

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  • Robert Thompson

    ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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