Queen of Fire, by Anthony Ryan, is the third and final book in the Raven’s Shadow series. As a stand-alone book, I would consider it to be mediocre. As the conclusion of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, I would say it was an expected disappointment. The first book in the series, Blood Song, stands out as one of the best pieces of fantasy I’ve ever read. The second book in the series, Tower Lord (read my review of Tower Lord here), was a glaring disappointment when placed next to Blood Song. Finally, in Queen of Fire we see a glimmer of the brilliance contained in the first book, but its shine is greatly diminished by the heavy-handed application of a sparse few storytelling mechanics. Ryan all but bludgeons the reader to death with the themes of the book. His characterization was weak and erratic, which prevented me from becoming invested in any of his characters. Despite all these pitfalls, Ryan still does manage to produce excellent, easy-to-read writing and the world he has created is fascinating and rich with history. When all of these elements are combined, you end up with a story that is better than Tower Lord, but only a shadow of Blood Song. I would tell anyone who shares in my man-crush on Vaelin Al Sorna and made it through Tower Lord to read this book and finish the trilogy, but if you haven’t read the first two books I would only recommend this book with a strong word of caution.
- I feel like if Anthony Ryan had the ability to leap from the book’s pages and bludgeon the reader with a club composed of the novel’s themes, he would do so happily. Rather than allowing his readers to come to terms with problems and questions posed by the book, Ryan frequently spells it out for you in plain text, multiple times, across multiple characters. This eager exposition quickly becomes tiring.
- Ryan so frequently relies on the same methods and tricks in an attempt to evoke emotion from the reader that they quickly lose the small amounts of meaning that they held in the first place. I swiftly lost any vestiges of emotional investment in nearly all his characters and I cannot recall once feeling sad, happy, angry, or anything at all towards his characters.
- What Anthony Ryan lacks as a storyteller, he partially makes up for as a writer. Ryan’s writing is fluid, pleasant to read, and well done. He was able to hold my attention and, outside of a few seemingly misused words, the book was as error free as one can expect.
- The world building is excellent, and is most likely what kept me reading this book. Ryan does a wonderful job of crafting the various religions, cultures, and histories found in his world. The traditions and beliefs found within The Unified Realm, the Ice People of the Northern Reaches, and the Empire of Volaria all felt unique and realistic and kept me wanting to find out more.
- There were just far too many characters with far too similar names. Arentes, Antesh, Alturk, Astorek, Ell-Nurin, Ell-Nestra. This paired with the different points of view in the story made me feel like I should have studied a Dramatis Personae before reading this book.
Vaelin, Reva, Frentis, Lyrna, and countless others have suffered greatly at the hands of the Volarian Empire, whose schemes and machinations are driven by the ever present but enigmatic Ally and his slave creatures. Seeking to end his influence on their world and destroy the depraved Volarian Empire, they marshal their forces and set off across the ocean for Volar. There are many battles ahead, and the Ally wields countless centuries of knowledge and power. But their world holds many powerful allies of their own, and a certain ageless soul may hold the key to destroying the Ally and securing their future.