The Grave Thief
The Grave Thief is the third book in Tom Lloyd’s Twilight Reign series following both The Stormcaller and The Twilight Herald. Where as The Twilight Herald broadened the scope of the series beyond Isak’s travails The Grave Thief increases the complexity of the plot and the gravity of the threat in the series. Where The Stormcaller stayed more tightly focused on Isak and his coterie The Grave Thief continues to expand upon the cast and players in the Twilight Reign. This was both boon and bane to the novel; the latter primarily because I waited something close to 7 months to read this latest volume.
Perhaps my favorite element of The Grave Thief’s plot spins directly out of the events of The Twilight Herald. After the events in Scree the Gods are angry, so angry in fact that they have driven those dedicated to them into rage and outright insanity. This has direct ramifications across various plots in the series from causing political problems for Isak’s theologically supported rulership, to creating violence and panic in the cities with the clergy taking a “firm” stance in enforcing the tenets of their religion, and in a personal sense for hero characters pledged to the service of a God; forcing them into horrific acts. Last but not least the sudden anger of the religious has a profound effect on the the average lay person playing right into a certain faction’s hands. The religious furor the pervades throughout the novel creates a wonderfully tense atmosphere across many fronts and is probably one of most original plot elements I’ve seen in many novels (or at least an original take on a wrath of God motif).
The Grave Thief is sort-of a follow up and set up book. It deals mostly with the fallout from The Twilight Herald and feels more like a denouement to that novel rather than its own distinct entity. It advances the overall plot of the series to a degree but it leaves much unresolved at its end and numerous questions spring from its conclusion with very little resolution. To be fair this is the middle volume of a projected five book series and the final seen, of a character more-or-less staring into the distance, forcibley reminded me of the closing scene of The Empire Strikes. This novel, like Empire, left many questions unresolved and left the heroes in dire straits. (This is the 7th review in which I’ve compared a book to Empire, one day I’ll find a new movie to use.)
The Grave Thief doesn’t spend too much time with any one character. We do spend some time with Major Amber, a soldier in Kastan Styrax’s army who provides a nice grounded point of view. I’m a sucker for the soldier’s perspective when it comes to fantasy novel, blame Glen Cook and Steven Erikson for that, so I particularly enjoyed my time with Amber especially towards the end of the novel and his bemusing role as a sounding board for Styrax’s magical research. I was also particularly moved by the Gods’ effects on King Emin of Narkang. It is a short quiet moment that manages to touch on a smaller more human element than the rest of the epic events of the story. I definitely of the opinion that this series should see more of that; while the big movers and shakers of the story certainly make for excitement and adventure a tighter focus on the human cost of the events of novel would provide significant grounding for the novel and a greater emotional impact from what we’ve seen. As it is the spread of characters is a bit too broad to allow for the reader to grow emotionally attached to any single character and while the fates of a number of character’s are certainly up in the air after the big climax of The Grave Thief I found the impact of that fact curiously shallow.
Still, The Grave Thief is another excellent entry into the Twilight Reign series. Dark and violent without ever being particularly gloomy Lloyd’s fiction makes for exciting reading that leaves one hungry for more. Readers are still curiously in the dark about the overall goals of the series’ big bad Azaer but the knowledge that it isn’t good, and that the Gods are so inept at even recognizing the threat, adds an certain “last stand” feel to the actions and decisions of heroes as the novel, and the series at large, progresses. The game changing conclusion to The Grave Thief left me hungry to know where things are going next; thankfully The Ragged Man is due out within the next few weeks!