MY RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS. A WICKEDLY STRONG COMEBACK IN A FANTASTIC SERIES. 100% RECOMMENDED.
A woman awoken in air, a soldier forged by fire, a weapon risen from blood.
Vhalla Yarl has made it to the warfront in the North. Forged by blood and fire, she has steeled her heart for the final battle of the Solaris Empire’s conquest. The choices before Vhalla are no longer servitude or freedom, they are servitude or death. The stakes have never been higher as the Emperor maintains his iron grip on her fate, holding everything Vhalla still has left to lose in the balance.
~ My Thoughts (+Minor Spoilers)~
While I admit to having mixed feelings about Fire Falling, Earth’s End is undeniably strong in nearly every place its predecessor is lacking. The story is fantastically paced, the secondary characters absolutely come life, the tension is electric, and the romance promises to triple your heartbeat.
Evidently, there’s a lot to love about this sequel. Fans of the series will be cheered to discover Vhalla as kick-ass as she’s always been, but with a refreshing degree of vulnerability as well. She may be hurting–pretty much constantly–but she always forces herself to keep moving, and her resilience, more than anything else, defines her in this book. She’s become quite the efficient killer, but she still retains a great ability to emphasize with those around her; she’s a weapon for the Empire, undeniably so, but she experiences more than one moment of doubt, revealing the tenderness in Vhalla’s heart that the Emperor has yet to completely destroy.
Aldrick, on the other hand, has lost most (if not all) of his previously broody personality, but the sweet, dedicated, and passionate man that’s slipped into his place still demands your attention. At last, readers get to see an Aldrick willing to hope against all odds that things will work out for him and Vhalla, and that hope empowers him to challenge his father again and again and again. This transformation may even feel a little out of character for our dark prince–and it is, I think–but the change adds incredible depth to Aldrick’s personality, and more so, it fuels a powerful change in Vhalla at the end of the novel, one that forces her to realize something that’s always been broken about her love for the prince.
But the real gem of this story, in my opinion, is neither Vhalla nor Aldrick–instead, it’s Daniel and Baldair. The secondary characters make an incredible comeback in this novel, which is beyond fantastic to see, read, and experience, especially after their backseat role in Fire Falling. Daniel is amazing, and I love him a little more every time he appears in the narrative. He’s endearing, reliable, supportive, and loving, which I find makes him a powerful foil for Aldrick, who is the same but in a completely different way. They are contrasts, the light and dark of Vhalla’s capacity to love, and I deeply appreciate that both men have a foot in either camp, serving as reflections of what Vhalla needs, not in a partner, but in herself.
And do not even get me started on Baldair! I was always on the fence about my feelings for the younger prince, but damn, he is everything this series has ever needed. His friendship with Vhalla is incredible, and I cannot tell you how many times I laughed or smiled when these two interacted. And the naked scene has got to be one of my favourite moments in the entire series thus far–you’ll just have to take my word for it. Moreover, Baldair and Aldrick also get a lot of character development as brothers, and it’s great to finally see the two try to mend the rift that has opened between them, even if it’s a bumpy rode with more pain than payoff.
Even Elecia gets a gold star in this book. She may have nearly completely disappeared after the first quarter of the story, but her friendship with Fritz humanizes her in a way that the entirety of Fire Falling failed to manage. Her truce with Vhalla feels real, and the way it slowly develops into a friendship born of mutual trust and admiration is fantastic to see between the two strongest women in the series thus introduced.
As always, then, I am happy to say that the characters are still the best and strongest part of these books. The magic is still exciting and new, the plot is still interesting, the tension is still great, but whether or not you love the characters is what will make or break this series for you.
All of that being said, I do still have several critiques of Earth’s End. My biggest is in terms of the book’s structure; like both Air Awakens and Fire Falling, this novel suffered from having an obvious false ending, only for the last four chapters to end in the same way the other two books have–with all the shit hitting the fan in the worst way imaginable. That is to say: nothing good ever happens in the last few chapters of these books, and knowing that robs the ending of a lot of its suspense, because readers can predict the disaster from miles away. The false ending is always kind of cheesy as well, with sentiments like, “we did it, things will get better now, hurrah!” which always turns out to be a lie; then, by the end of the book, there’s a cliffhanger of varying intensity, with a problem that divides Vhalla and Aldrick in way that is usually pretty predictable based on the set-up of the rest of the novel. Without giving it away, I saw the plot twist of Earth’s End coming for at least half of the book, and while that did not ruin how much I still enjoyed it, it was the biggest reason I had to knock half a star off my rating, because really, both Aldrick and Vhalla were incredibly naive not to foresee this obviously upcoming disaster.
Additionally, I feel the best chapters for Aldrick were the last few. That isn’t to void what I said earlier, but seeing him get angry and unstable was incredible, and it reminded me of all the reasons I first fell in the love with his character. It was at that same point, however, that I realized what this book had always been missing: the dark side to the dark prince. I hope we see more of that Aldrick return in Water’s Wrath.
Speaking of characterization, the Emperor could really use some more fleshing out. What he says is rather scary, I suppose, but the man himself feels a little bland and cliche on the whole, lacking a lot of motivation and that ‘fear factor’ which would make me as afraid for Vhalla as she is for herself while around him. Also, I have to agree with the Emperor about his confusion in regards to why Vhalla’s word is so accepted and appreciated at counsel meetings. While I think it’s great that she gets to use her library knowledge to its fullest potential, I struggle to understand how a room full of highly-trained, heavily-experienced generals could even take her seriously, let alone value her word at her word. Also, are there no other scholars in the entire camp? Is there no other learned individual in the entirety of the Emperor’s inner circle? Because I just find it hard to accept that Vhalla is the first and only one to propose so many realistic and important battle tactics when all she has is book knowledge, as opposed to any real practical experience.
My final critique is the novel’s unfortunate way of making important and powerful moments and revelations last for no more than a single chapter. The high speed action of the first quarter of the book, for example, ends abruptly and quickly, even before the real excitement and danger could kick in. Then, when Vhalla first slips into the Northern capital, her devastation is short-lived and pretty much never mentioned again, even after the little breakdown she suffers and the promises she extracts from Aldrick. This is especially bad in reference to the conclusion of the novel, as Vhalla’s heartbreaking revelation is equally short-lived, not to mention drastically undermined by a lack of build-up or follow-up. Even Aldrick himself falls into this trap when he makes an effort to change one of his bad habits, as he is only shown training with the other sorcerers exactly once, making his character flaw feel cheap and instantly curable with only a little (slightly necessary) tough love from Vhalla (needless to say, that’s incredibly unrealistic, and I hope this also gets followed up on in the next book).
All in all, Earth’s End is a great read. I had a lot of fun with it, and everything stitches itself together quite nicely, from the plot to the action to the tension to the dialogue to the cliffhanger. The secondary characters are definitely the best part of this book, without a doubt, but that is not to say that Vhalla and Aldrick weren’t fun to follow around, as their relationship deepens and broadens in wonderful ways no reader of the series will want to miss. I’m excited for Water’s Wrath, but I’m sad about it too, because it means I’m more than halfway done this series and I’ve enjoyed my time in Vhalla’s world more than I can say. I’m sad to see the ending on the horizon, but I hope the books only continue to get better from here.