Fall of Thanes is the concluding volume in The Godless World Trilogy by Brian Ruckley. A debut trilogy, the story is set in a violent, Norse-like medieval world where magic is a product of interbreeding, the races are at odds with one another, and it is very, very cold.
The series began with the destruction of one thanedom by another that had been in hiding for some time. The conquerors were part of a fatalistic creed known as the Black Road. Winterbirth followed the lone survivor of the ruling family of that Thanedom as he sought shelter in unlikely places. Bloodheir brought in more characters, and turned what was simply a battle for dominance over a small thanedom into a magical and mental battle between those who oppose darkness and the deranged mind of the most talented magic user of the age. Fall of Thanes picks up where Bloodheir left off. Orisian oc Lannis-Haig, the survivor readers followed in the first novel, has found his sister. But his thanedom is shattered, having a mere sixty warriors left. Meanwhile, Aeglyss, the mad magic-user is devolving even further into madness after his crucifixion experience.
The majority of this book is given over to the detailing of how the world is falling into chaos. Even the Black Road, with their strict creed, is turning against itself. Only a few people in the Godless World manage to hold onto their sanity. Kanin oc Horin-Gyre, thane of his Blood, keeps a tight reign on his sanity through hatred of Aeglyss. Orisian is affected, but his sense of duty keeps him mentally occupied. His sister, Anyara, out keeps her wits about her through love of her brother. And Taim, whose loyalty to Orisian is complete, keeps away from the creeping madness that Aeglyss’ control of the magic well of the Shared is engendering in everyone.
Fall of Thanes was a bit longer than necessary. Although the descent into madness is key to the story, and the ways that some characters keep out of it show a variety of emotions is interesting, Ruckley spends way too much space telling us about the slow (too slow!) descent into madness. He could probably have shaved off a hundred pages, and told a much tighter, more intense story.
Those who have been reading the series expecting that Ruckley would go the traditional fantasy route of a final battle between forces as a conclusion will be disappointed. Ruckley finished the story in a grand way, but one that is also very sad. In a war of the mind, which is what this trilogy relates, no display of physical force is good enough to end the battle between good and evil.
Ruckley continues to write a good narrative that is dark and compelling. It is in no sense a traditional fantasy, and it reads more like a historical novel of the Dark Ages than any fantasy. This series is a good introduction to fantasy for those who dislike the traditional Tolkien tropes, and is a true dark epic fantasy. The story has a great sense of oppression about it, and readers will wonder if all will finally end well for the characters we have come to appreciate. I would not have been surprised to see Aeglyss triumph in the end, with the way that Fall of Thanes is written.
Although I was disappointed at the length of the last novel, I still highly recommend the series. It is different from standard fantasy, but at the same time still has that heroic aspect that is so appealing. The Norse-like setting, mixed with some medieval fantasy tropes makes it comfortable to the typical reader, but its dark nature and surprising twists of fate will appeal to those readers tired of the same old thing. Brian Ruckley is a writer worth reading.