Peace time means innovation is taking hold in the Union and a brighter future lies just around the corner for all the main characters. Lol, not exactly, afterall this is a Joe Abercrombie book. The trouble with peace is that it is provides a fertile ground for unrest to take hold in and after the events of the first book all of the main characters are quite dissatisfied with the status quo. King Orso is new to his role as head of the Union, which means the members of his open council are actively jockeying for personal power instead of supporting him, and he is still brooding over his unexpected break-up with Savine, who is struggling with her investments. To nobody's surprise Savine's one night stand with the Union's newest hero, Leo dan Brock, doesn't make her any happier. In fact it sets in motion unintended consequences that make the political situation within the Union a powder keg ready to explode. Things aren't much better up north where Stour Nightfall has new ambitions for revenge after losing his duel to Leo, and the Dogman's daughter, Rikke, is barely staying sane as her ability to see the future has taken over her life and is preventing her from dealing with the present. This means that all of these main characters have political and personal motivations to see the others come to misery, so come along for the ride and find out how it all happens.
The comparison to Hogwarts is inevitable but The Scholomance is on an entirely different level that is darker and more complex. Sorcerers built The Scholomance to protect their children from the malefactions that are always hungry for the magic that sorcerers contain. The idea was to build it in a void pocket with a single portal that would only open once a year for graduates to exit and freshmen to enter. Its creator knew that malefactions would still find their way in, but powerful wards were built into the structure to make it difficult for them to get past the portal hall. Then just before the seniors exit the portal hall it is swept with mortal fire to kill the mals and give the students a clear path to the portal. It works, except for the mortal fire part, and at most sixty percent of the kids manage to survive "graduation". To increase their chances of survival the kids form alliances and work together, but El is the least popular kid in her year. For three years she has been looking for a chance to impress the better connected students but time is running out. Everything begins to change when her year's golden boy and self-appointed hero, Orion, busts into her room to save her from a mal.
Let's quickly recap the setup done in the first book: The kingdom of Mordant on the verge of crumbling and Castle Orison is surrounded by the Alend army. Of course the massive hole in the wall doesn't really help matters much, especially since it is a self inflicted wound created after the Congery's ill advised attempt to summon a champion to help them defend Mordant. Said champion was translated from a futuristic world and upon arrival he promptly used his laser rifle to blast his way out through the castle wall and take off leaving behind a gap that can't be quickly repaired. At that point Mordant's King found that he was left with few supporters as almost everyone has chosen to ally themselves elsewhere, even his own daughters. That's no surprise as the Cadwal army is also marching towards Orison and it will likely arrive while the existing siege is going on so there is no reason to hope for a good outcome. Yet despite all of that setup from the first book this one still manages to get off to a slow start by finding a way to do even more. Sigh.
Mordant is a kingdom where mirrors function as magical devices capable of viewing other worlds and the Imagers that craft them have the power to translate both the objects and people they see in those mirrors into their own world. Imagers spend years expertly crafting their mirrors to achieve many powerful abilities, both good and evil, but one thing they always avoid making is a flat mirror. That is because anyone who sees their own reflection in a flat mirror, or attempts a translation in one, loses their mind. Imagers are also capable of performing auguries by shattering a mirror into pieces. The resulting shards of the mirror reveal glimpses of the future, although the resulting images are often subject to multiple interpretations. The Congery of Mordant has performed just such an augury and from the resulting images the Masters have concluded that a champion must be translated to save their kingdom from destruction. They have also seen that Apt Geraden, an expendable apprentice of little promise, should be the one to perform that translation. When Geraden enters the mirror to perform the translation he returns not with the expected champion but rather with Terisa Morgan, who he plucked right out of her Manhattan apartment building.
After the last book ended with the second cliffhanger in a row the time has finally come for resolution. The war has been in the background while Tressa and company have been on their mission to rescue Suri, but the time has come to bring the mission, and the war, to a conclusion. Speaking of Suri, will she be able to escape her Elven captors? Even if she does escape, did she already doom everyone in her efforts to bring about peace? Will Brin get her hands on the Horn of Gylindora and bring it back to Nyphron in time for him to challenge for the throne? Does Malcolm's plan finally come together or does it all fall apart due to the unpredictable nature of people? This book has all the answers to these questions and more as Michael J. Sullivan wraps the series up with a tidy bow and leaves very little unresolved. So if you have enjoyed the series enough to reach this finale then know that you won't be left hanging for an outcome any longer.
Age of Death picks up right where the last book ended, which is good since that one had a major cliffhanger ending. However, don't get your hopes up for resolution as Sullivan serves up another such ending this time as well. The characters are now front and center instead of the war and yet the stakes have never been higher. Tressa's group is well on their way through the "hidden passage" to the Elven capitol, where they hope to rescue Suri, but they need arrive before the Elves manage to get the secret of dragon summoning from her. It may already be too late though as Suri has some new Elven allies who have convinced her that teaching their leader to summon dragons is the best way to bring about peace. It isn't clear which choice for Suri will lead to the best outcome but there are plenty of interesting revelations that happen along the way.
When the second half of the series begins a number of years have passed in the war between the humans and the elves. The humans have pushed the elves back to the Nidwalden river but the tower of Avempartha has prevented them from advancing any further and it has been this way for years. Out on the open plains, the humans rule with their superior numbers and their dragon ally, but within the forest near Avempartha the elves always come out on top in any skirmish. All attempts by the humans to cross the Nidwalden river have resulted in disaster as the magic wielders within Avempartha can easily stop all crossings from afar. It is within this period of frustration that Persephone decides to seek peace with the Elven leader and he agrees to talk, but only on his terms. He will only speak with Suri, the human mystic who summoned the dragon, and he requires her to come alone to the Elven capital. Is this the best hope for a peaceful resolution or is it just a trap that could turn the war against the humans?
Students of military history know that there are fifteen proven ways to defend a walled city. Unfortunately they all require things like catapults, weaponry, and soldiers. What the capitol of the Robur empire has are nice thick walls, five hundred watchmen, a few gardeners, some gladiators, and the Corps of Engineers led by Colonel Felix Orhan. Sadly, they also have an enemy that numbers thirteen thousand with the best armor and swords the empire can buy. Felix could run away and become a farmer somewhere, or even join the enemy since they are also pale skinned "barbarians", but he chooses the third option which involves making up a sixteenth method for defending a walled city.
As the newly chosen leader, Persephone must find a way to do the impossible and prepare the Rhunes (humans) for war against the Fhrey (elves) and their vastly superior weapons and magic. Not long ago the humans considered the Fhrey to be gods so going to war with them was unthinkable. That all changed when Raithe, now known as "the god killer," proved that the former gods could be slain. With the rebel elf, Nyphron, advising her on one hand, and Raithe offering different advice on the other, Persephone struggles to make the right choices with so much at stake. Ultimately siding against Raithe she decides to go with Nyphron's plan to attempt to take control of Alon Rhist, the elven stronghold on their border. Nyphron believes that this can be done without bloodshed due to his personal standing with the inhabitants, but if he is wrong the war could be over before it even starts. Nyphron seems to be offering good advice to Persephone but he is not without his own agenda. Since Nyphron and the other rebel elves still refuse to kill their kin, when the bloodshed starts it will be up to the humans to determine their own fate.
After giving us some insight into the cultures of the humans and elves in book one, this time around we learn a lot more about the dwarves. War is coming for the Rhunes (humans) and they are ill prepared to fight the elves for many reasons. Already 3 dahls (settlements) have been destroyed, including Dahl Rhen, and new chieftain Persephone finds herself leading her refugees toward Dahl Tirre. It is there that she hopes to summon all the clan chieftains together in order to elect a single ruler, known as a Keenig, to start fighting back. It is this process that exposes the many problems facing the humans, first and foremost of which is that they have very inferior weapons to the elves. This is where the dwarves come in, but unfortunately for Persephone and the other Rhunes the dwarves don't like them and gaining their help is not going to be easy.