Catching up with the plethora of great books I’ve been reading. They’re distracting me from writing about them, they’re that good. But it’s not surprising to me when I’m reading authors I already know are awesome in the middle of a series that I never want to end.
For six years, former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has been living as a jack of the shadow trades, picking up odd jobs on the wrong side of the law. But that past is never dead, and Aral’s has finally caught up to him in the beautiful, dangerous form of Jax Seldansbane – a fellow Blade and Aral’s onetime fiancee.
Jax claims that the forces that destroyed everything Aral once held dear are on the move again, and she needs his help to stop them. But Aral has a different life now with a fresh identity and new responsibilities. And while he isn’t keen on letting the past back in, the former assassin soon finds himself involved in a war that will leave him with no way out and no idea who to trust…
If you go back and look at what I talked about with the first two books in the series, Broken Blade and Bared Blade, you’ll be able to copy and paste a lot of what makes this third book great. I’ve crowed praise for McCullough pretty often on this blog because I feel it’s very well deserved. So I could repeat myself a lot, but I’m going to press on and try to focus on the specifics and evolution this series is taking.
One of the hallmarks of McCullough’s writing is the relationships between his characters. (Spoiler alert from the end of book two) I was super excited when Faran showed up in book two. We’ve seen how the downfall of the Blades affected Aral, not good but his whole getting better thing is the overall arc of the series. Faran and her shade were younger when their temple fell. Surviving the intervening years has left her with two very different sides to her personalities. One side is the cold blooded killer who will shank whoever needs shanking to make it through the day. The other side is a very uncertain teenager who doesn’t know her place in the world.
There’s a chunk of time between the second and third books and Aral takes Faran under his wing. She’s kind of his apprentice, but not really because of the experiences she had surviving on her own. It evolves into a big brother / little sister kind of relationship more than anything else. I think they’ve got one of the more complicated relationships in any of the books McCullough’s written and became one of the best ones to read.
Then there’s Jax. She brings the plot to Aral in this one and they’ve got a lot of history. It shows in every word they say to each other. And there’s a big secret that Jax carries with her for the plot so I’m not going to talk about it. Suffice to say the plot features a lot of secrets, twists, turns and double dealing like the others. And like the others, that makes it very hard to talk about without ruining anything that happens. Rest assured that it is entirely satisfying. There’s a slow play going on with one of the characters that’s so slow, you don’t even realize it’s a play until it happens. Damn that made the ending feel great and I hope it plays in with the next book.
A lot of Crossed Blades moves outside the city of Tien. I missed Tien, it’s like the New York City of that world, the center and coolest place around. I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books like Captain Fei. (I still want a whole book about Captain Fei) That’s always a problem with a series, reading and writing. There’s so much to like, it’s got to be hard to keep it all in. But I never felt like I was missing out with Crossed Blades. A couple characters don’t show but we get Faran and Jax with her crew. We don’t get the dyads but we get the Hand and their storms.
I think that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent series. Growth and evolution. Layer in the new stuff and let the story go where it needs to without getting hung up on fan service. I know I just said I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books, but there wasn’t any reason to have them waltz into this one. I’ll love it if they do in book four (and a peek at the sample chapter says a couple do!) but the story is boss. I’d rather see the narrative arc grow than forcing it around for fan service. (Although… Captain Fei book! I will throw all sorts of money at that!) This series is Aral’s story. His travels took him one way and that’s what mattered. He makes a lot of progress in getting his life back underneath him.
The series continues to get better and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out this summer.