Simon Brown,
Keys of Power #3:

(DAW, 2004)

In Sovereign, Simon Brown closes out his Keys of Power trilogy, and I have to say it is one of the most intense, absorbing fantasy series I have ever read, evolving from an entertaining but seemingly pedestrian fantasy adventure about an exiled prince into a shockingly dark tale that left me wondering up through the very last page just how things could possibly turn out in the end.

In Inheritance, we first met young Prince Lynan, a youth looked down upon by his royal siblings and largely ignored by his mother the queen because he was the son of a commoner (albeit the greatest general Grenda Lear had ever produced). Framed for regicide, he fled the kingdom in the company of Kumul, his mentor and ex-captain of the palace guard; Ager, a crookbacked soldier who fought alongside Lynan's father in the Slaver War; and a young female magicker named Jenrosa Alucar -- and the Key of Unity, one of the four Keys of Power that were distributed among Queen Usharna's four children at the time of her death.

Lynan was young and naive, but he gradually grew into the true son of his father, a military leader determined to return to Grenda Lear and reclaim what had been stolen from him. Back home, his half-sister Areava, having succeeded to the throne after the murder of her older brother, committed herself to destroying the half-brother she believed guilty of the crime -- never realizing that a most treacherous conspiracy involving a neighboring kingdom raged underneath her very nose. In the distant Oceans of Grass, Lynan united the nomadic Chetts and began a civil war that would eventually involve every province across the land of Theare.

For the first half of the series, I worked under the assumption that everything would work out in the end -- Lynan was innocent of the crime that sent him into exile, after all. Then, in the latter half of Fire & Sword, Brown hit me with the literary equivalent of a one-two punch that left me reeling in absolute shock at the tragedy and horror unleashed upon all sides of this epic conflict.

Naturally, I could not wait to see how the storyline would evolve in this third and final novel of the trilogy. Even with my blinders now off, I really had no idea how this epic saga would end. Sovereign is filled with both the thrills and visceral horrors of battle. Bloodied by his first encounter with the army of Grenda Lear, Lynan and his Chett allies not only regroup, they expand their war plans diplomatically as well as militarily. Lynan himself is greatly changed, devolving into something both more than and less than human as the life-saving blood of a vicious wood vampire haunts and transforms him into a frightening spectre that fills his enemies -- and eventually even his friends -- with dread. The once-noble young hero becomes a bloodthirsty killer who displays no mercy to those who stand in his way. His closest friends and allies are powerless to contain him in his madness -- not so long as he is prey to the torments of Silona the vampire.

One of the most compelling aspects of this story is the nebulous quality of good and evil on both sides of the conflict. One finds it hard to pull against Queen Areava and the noble prince Olio back in Grenda Lear, for they, like Lynan, are really just victims of the treachery that set the horrors of war in motion. Then there is Primate Powl, who attained his position by murdering the former primate. Despite the man's great sin, he becomes a tragic figure in these pages as he suffers the guilt of knowing he is not the religious leader he should be and searches earnestly for knowledge of his god. In the end, there are only a handful of truly guilty men, and the story finally comes full circle. As Lynan's army nears Kendra, the very capital of Grenda Lear, I honestly had no clue as to how Brown would resolve a story filled with so much pain and sorrow on all sides. Keys of Power is not just another fantasy series -- far from it, with its incredibly complex characters, shocking plot twists and powerfully emotional final showdown.

I only wish this series could have been expanded to some degree. Far too many fantasy series are stretched beyond their means over the course of multiple volumes, but the Keys of Power series only brushes the surface of several fascinating subplots, especially one concerning the true history of the land of Theare, and leaves the reader wanting more. I for one hope Simon Brown returns to Grenda Lear at some point, as I would love to see how a land so decimated by such a tragic and bloody war makes the difficult transition to the future.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 7 May 2005

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