“This day,” he cried, shouting now, “we will live or die, but whatever the outcome, this will still be the day we avenge ourselves for those we’ve lost, the day we right the wrongs done to us, or die in the trying. It will be a dark day, a bloody day, a proud day, for this is the day of our wrath.” “WRATH,” the cry went up, ringing and echoing through the branches.

The chills. The line is drawn in the sand: do you fight for good or do you fight for evil? No longer are our characters able to hide behind oaths made in ignorance, they must stand for something. We have come to a point where, after literally and figuratively getting the shit kicked out of them, our *Bright Star* and his allies have a fighting chance. John Gwynne PUT US (and them) THROUGH IT. He lovingly built up characters just to snatch them away from us. He tore down our defenses and stabbed us in the heart. We get a reprieve in this book. A lot of good happens, redemption that makes all the heartbreak we endured worth it. Oh ho ho, did you think that meant we were getting off easy? No, my friend. There’s still tendrils of devastation waiting to clutch at your tender, primed heart.

“My friend, why are you stood against me?”

“Because you are wrong,” his friend said simply.

We see the devastation that greed and power can bring, simply for the sake of it. Gwynne explores how the best of intentions can be laid bare to the reveal the fault in them. That even the idealistic figures that we’ve always looked to, might let us down. He shows that morality often takes a backseat to the lure of supremacy. And yet, though they might not be the loudest, or the strongest, there are always people that fight for what is right for the majority, not just the few. Though in modern day, we might fight our battles a bit differently, it’s always good to have a reminder that underneath the evil or power hungry raging the loudest, there is good that persists, true and comforting. TRUTH AND COURAGE, as Ban would remind us. Also, wonderfully, subtly, it addresses how doing nothing is as detrimental to the greater good of humanity as actively fighting against it is.

“This is the God-War; it does not work like that. All choose a side,” he said. “If you choose not to fight against Asroth, then you have already chosen him. Doing nothing does not absolve you of choice. Doing nothing puts you firmly on Asroth’s side and makes you a coward, as well, for not having the stones to admit it.”

Gwynne manages to take these characters that we’ve already been with for three books and teach us more about them. We feel closer than ever to them. The terror that men feel when they see Maquin gets more hilarious and grin-inducing as the story goes. He went from an exceptional fighter to a complete fear-inducing savage, striking panic in the heart of the hardest men. It was satisfying to see the likes of Jael and Lykos humbled by that panic whenever he was mentioned. At the same time, Maquin stays strong and true, always fighting for his heart’s home, whether it is Fidele or Kastell.

“It’s the Old Wolf,” a Vin Thalun shouted; the cry was taken up, rippling around the room.

The animals in this story are more than companions, they’re vital. We already know Storm and her brood are more than capable. Craf, comedic and grumpy, becomes a real player in this book. I loved his dry remarks and commentary before, but he proves that he’s essential to the success of his friends. The raw emotion exchanged between these characters and the animals tugs at my heartstrings. Any book that expertly weaves a love for animals into the plot line only wins my favor more. It’s no coincidence that my top five in fantasy have plenty of animal counterparts between them.

“For one moment, it stood on the table, beady eyes darting about, locking with Rafe’s, silence settling upon the room as men, giants, and a queen all start in dumbfounded shock at the crow. Then it was airborne, flapping away, back out the window.”

Even in Rafe, we see the way that love for an animal can humanize us when we have little to live for otherwise. Rafe was one of those exceptional characters that you want to hate but you can’t help but pity. His whole life was set on a path of destruction, starting with a father that didn’t nurture him during his upbringing in a way that set him up for success. This is in contrast to Corban, who was raised lovingly by parents AND a community, is an excellent case for the psychology behind nature vs nurture. We see an average boy like Corban thrive because of this advantage. We also have characters like Trigg, that scheme as a way of survival in an unfair world. I am sure many fantasy fans have gotten a polite brush off here and there, like I have, when people ask them what they like to read. I’ll tell you now, and I’ll tell you again: within the fantasy genre, I have subtly learned more about compassion, psychology, and humanity than I have in any other genre all whilst taking me on an unimaginable journey. Gwynne is an author that understands their audience needs relatability in the midst of their fantastical story.

“Because this is not who I am,” she eventually said. “One act of darkness, of treachery. But also many of loyalty, too. Judge me by the sum of my deeds, not just the one mistake.”

Speaking of Corban, I think we really learn that you can be great without being some prophesied hero. Being chosen by your people for who you are and how you lead is more satisfying than being chosen because an old document foretold your leadership. I think it goes without saying that Corban has proved himself worthy of command over and over. Respectively, Edana has taken council and come into her own, as well. She makes decisions with her head instead of her heart, which is actually in contrast to Ban’s approach. They’ve both found leadership styles that work for them, an excellent example of how leadership is unique to the individual.

“I for one do not care. I never followed you because of a prophecy. I followed because you saved me, and because my enemies are here, and if I don’t face them, they will kill me, or worse, make me a slave again. I still want to kill them. The prophecy changes nothing.”

I could talk about these characters forever. Cywen, Veradis, Gar, Brina, Halion, Camlin, Haelen. Here’s to you. I think if I delved in as far as I would like, I would spoil a bit of the story. Choosing a favorite is almost impossible to me, outside of Ban (I said almost *cough* Veradis, *cough* Maquin). They’ve all been crafted so expertly that they jump off the page. That’s one of the reasons we read, to connect. I had no trouble connecting here. Hence, the heart that was broken and patched, broken and patched, broken and patched again. If you haven’t guessed, this book and series have earned an easy 5/5 stars for me. I savored every bit of this journey. It will forever have a place on my bookshelves. This book is an embodiment of love, passion, and GOODNESS that shines through during a time where our world is very much fraying at the edges. I hope you will, or have already, enjoy these as much as I have. To The Banished Lands, until we meet again.

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