I have to confess to some disappointment with this, the final part of the 'Braided Path' trilogy. The first two were terrific, with great world-building, a brilliant magic system and a suitably apocalyptic threat to be dealt with, and if some of the characters were not all that interesting, it hardly mattered. But this book, despite a resounding climax and some nifty tying up of numerous plot threads, felt - just meh.
As usual, Wooding dumps us right into the middle of the action, without a moment to catch our breath. Not a writer to ease the reader gently into the story. He's very good, however, at scattering gentle hints as a reminder of the previous two books. The story picks up roughly four years after the last book ended, deep into a war between the Weavers (those who can manipulate the underlying 'weave' of the world, something like another dimension) and the remnants of the Empire. Both sides have their Aberrants on hand, twisted evil creatures fighting for the Weavers, and humans with unusual powers, once secret, but now openly supporting the Empire.
I've noted in reviews of the first two parts that Wooding's world-building is absolutely awesome. Everything is here - races, cultures, belief systems, flora and fauna, weather, languages, architecture, even the cutlery - all worked out to the last detail. It makes the average fantasy sort-of-medieval backdrop with peasants and castles seem incredibly dull by comparison. The magic is pretty damn good too. I was a little concerned that Kaiku, whose development has been the focus of the story, has now turned into some kind of River-esque 'I can kill you with my brain' superhero. And that would be very boring. But not to worry, because the Weavers have come up with something even more powerful, something that even Kaiku and her friends can't deal with. And we are beginning to find out about the strange and capricious spirits who also inhabit Saramyr.
The story builds through crisis after crisis and, as in the previous books, it seems that the main characters can't put their noses out of the door without some life-threatening encounter, and every one hyped to the max, and filled with foul monsters and dismembered corpses and all sorts of horrors. You know what? It gets a bit repetitive after a while. And even the relatively quiet moments are full of angst. There always seems to be one character or another over-analysing. I got a little jaded with it.
The characters have acquired some depth (well, over three books they have history, so it's inevitable), but none of them are really particularly likeable or emotionally engaging. Frankly, I just don't care whether they live or die, for the most part. Tsata is the most interesting, by a long way, with an honourable mention for Mishani's mother. Oh, and perhaps Lucia too. But Kaiku has turned into something of a selfish cow. Having being rescued from certain death by others numerous times, and trained to use her powers by the Red Order, she now starts agonising about - well, everything. She turns against the Red Order, she encourages Lucia to think of herself first (bit late for that), and she is horrible to Tsata. [Spoiler below] And yet she is nice to the one person who treated her abominably.
The problem for me is that this book is so dismal. All the things I loved about the first two - the weird flora and fauna, the etiquette, the elegant lifestyle and rituals of the Empire - all that is effectively gone, and the story staggers from one horrendous battle of monsters to another. It's like Frodo and Sam endlessly trekking through Mordor, really depressing stuff. Actually, it's worse, because there is so much gore and blood and spilled entrails and limbs chopped off, each monster more hideous and unbeatable than the last. And although everything that happen is completely logical, and feels as if the whole story was worked out from day one, there was no emotional resonance to it, in the end. Three stars.
On Kaiku and Tsata: I mean, really. She has been mooning over him for three quarters of the book, she forces him to declare himself, and then, when they are just about to set off on a suicidal mission, the obvious time to get it together, she says - well, actually, I really need to think about this. And starts agonising over the fact that her powers will make her live longer than him. Not if you both die horribly in the next chapter. I mean, get a grip, woman, just get on with it.