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Book Review: Blessed Epoch, Vol. 1, by August Li

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Book Review: Blessed Epoch, Vol. 1, by August Li

Book Info

Book Series
Blessed Epoch, Books 1-4.5
Authors
About the Author
August (Gus) Li is a creator of fantasy worlds. When not writing, he enjoys drawing, illustration, costuming and cosplay, and making things in general. He lives near Philadelphia with two cats and too many ball-jointed dolls. He loves to travel and is trying to see as much of the world as possible. Other hobbies include reading (of course), tattoos, and playing video games.
Publication Date
October 18, 2016
Available Formats
epub, mobi, pdf
Pages
1093
Content Warning
 Trigger warnings are for violence, torture, historical gang rape, incestual rape, flaying, rape as torture, death, slavery, war, murder and mental health issues, though thankfully nothing too graphic is ever shown on page, in detail. The word '
ISBN
978-1-63477-630-1
ASIN
B01M1WQVW9
When mage Yarroway L’Estrella and knight Duncan Purefroy are both assigned to escort Prince Garith to his new bride and kingdom, neither is sure he trusts the other, but a disturbing secret and another ally forces the three to work together, in Ashes and Echoes. After Yarrow leaves Duncan and Sasha to find a cure for his magical affliction, in Ice and Embers, the pair are left on their own to deal with Duncan’s new realm of Windwake and Sasha’s former family of assassins. Sasha gave up everything when he chose to stay with Yarrow and Duncan and to not kill Prince Garith; now, in Iron and Ether, all three must face the consequences and deal with a threat to Garith’s twin kingdoms. In Cairn and Covenant, Octavian Rose was given a second chance thanks to an assassin’s unexpected mercy. Through the years, determined to make a name for himself and retain his morals while doing so, his actions will have much larger consequences than he could have ever imagined.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Complicated Mix of Good and Bad
Overall 
 
3.0

  POV – 3rd person, multi-POV
 Would I read it again – Probably not. It's just too long winded.
 Genre – LGBT, Fantasy, Magic, MMM

 ** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **


 Blessed Epoch is a series about a powerful mage, Yarrow, a knight of much renown, Duncan, and an assassin, Sasha, who are all thrown together by a King with a secret, to deliver a prince to a wedding. On the surface it sounds simple and intriguing, but it turns out to be so much more complicated than first thought.

 ~

Book 1: Ashes and Echoes
Length: 0-23%
POV: Yarrow, Duncan, Sasha
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

 Confusingly, I enjoyed this but it wasn't one of those books I read and thought “OMG, I'm in love” like I have with other books by this author. I feel a little bit torn about it, as in some ways it was fantastic, while in others it felt really long (even for a book of 330 pages) and it dragged in places where it really shouldn't have.

 Sadly, I didn't end book 1 with an urgent, desperate need to read book 2, but I am curious how it will go. The plot for this one was quite twisted and intertwining so I guess that the others will probably follow the same format. However, it really didn't work for me. It felt more like a bunch of short plot arcs that were all woven together to make one big one and, at times, I wasn't following the connections or I didn't believe in them enough to trust it. And it's a little annoying that we leave book 1 without knowing who, exactly, ordered the assassins to do their job against Sasha. That bugs me, leaving an unanswered question.

 The story dealt with some serious themes in a compassionate, understanding way that didn't make fun of them but didn't blow them up into something that became the focus of the story, either. They were used as a side plot in a really long story, but treated with care and woven seamlessly into the story, from beginning to end, so that it wasn't constantly on our mind but was never far from our thoughts, at the same time.

 It started off really intriguing, because Yarrow was a great character to offer his POV and he showed us a lot about himself that we couldn't have found out in any other way. But he was also a relateable character, one with scars both mental and physical and a mysterious past, a mysterious voice in his head and a whole lot of questions for us to ask about that were revealed throughout the telling of the story, in pieces that were just enough at the time they were given. I do think maybe we were told the story of how Yarrow met the mysterious voice in his head too soon. I would have loved to have waited until he explained it all to Duncan and Sasha before finding out, because then it would be much more curious and intriguing.

 One thing that really bothered me was the copious amounts of sex. Now, normally I like the amount of sex scenes to match the theme of the book and the length. So, a longer novel can handle more scenes and one that is based on an MMM relationship can handle a little more than your average MM, often because of the dynamics needed to bring three people together. In this one, I understood the need for Yarrow and Sasha to get it on, when Duncan kept refusing Yarrow and they'd made their 'no strings' agreement. I also get the point of the angry sex later, when Duncan again refuses Yarrow, as well as the first menage scene. However, they had to be about ten sex scenes in this entire book, all of a hugely unnecessary half dozen to dozen pages each. Now, in a contemporary romance novel I can accept more of that, but in a fantasy with a plot this intricate, there really shouldn't have been the time, energy or inclination for that amount of sex to be going on. It just felt a little too much, too contrived and too in-your-face for my liking, which is weird because August Li has become one of those insta-love authors for me that always seems to get it right. So, I'm kind of hoping that this first book is the anomaly of the series, in this regard.

 The three person POV was fine, for me. I totally understood that Sasha and Duncan had to tell their sides of the story, especially since they often went off alone, but I felt closer to Yarrow, as a character, mostly because he got the primary POV that felt more realistic and complex than the other two. Sometimes it felt like the POV's for Sasha and Duncan had been filler chapters, added in later to fill in the blanks or just to divide the POV's more equally when it wasn't really necessary, such as Sasha's mental predicament and drunkenness on the boat. Most of what was revealed was already known to us or at least obvious from the way he'd been acting.

 However, I did feel the chemistry between all three of them and I appreciated that, unlike some other stories in the MMM genre, the relationship was shared equally between all three characters and was equal parts emotional and physical. It grew over time, even if it felt a little too 'picture perfect' at times to really be all that dramatic.

 I guessed the only huge plot point very early on. It was a little obvious to me, but I still felt vindicated and happy when it was revealed that I was right. I also have a running theory about the voice in Yarrow's head that I won't remark on until the big reveal later (if and when it comes) until I know whether I'm right or not.

 More than any of the characters, I felt for Yarrow, who had no choice but to live a half-life with another creature inside his head, taking over his body and often doing things that would revolt or terrify him if he knew. I found it a little frustrating the neither Sasha nor Duncan did anything during the pub scene when the creature had taken over Yarrow, leaving him to feel used and mistreated in a way that they could have prevented if they'd only opened their eyes.

 Overall, the story is all about an intricate, intriguing conspiracy that went just a little too far into the convoluted and unexplainable, for my liking. All the way through reading I flip-flopped between a 3 and 4 star review, due to the parts that flagged in both excitement and failing to draw my attention as much as other parts. Rini's story made me cry, as Yarrow had the ability to do quite a bit, but the over abundance of sex and the lack of flow between one plot twist and the next left me feeling muddled, with too much thrown at me to make much sense of it. With the two other main characters of Duncan and Sasha feeling far too aloof, it meant that two thirds of the POV's were lacking that relateable, loveable quality that Yarrow's character had. There was nothing mysterious about either of them that kept me interested in their internal thoughts. And the ending which lacked Sasha's reveal of the ring disappointed me, because it was a pivotal moment that could have sent Yarrow off with some relief. Ending with a finale that was both frustrating and, like other parts of the story, highly predictable, I had no choice but to choose the 3 star rating.

 ~

 Favourite Quote

 “Duncan stood and Sasha stepped forward to clasp his hand. “You know, Tam Knight, I think that was the first civilized conversation we've shared. You didn't insult me once. I rather enjoyed it.””

 “Some days Yarrow felt like all the beauty had drained out of the world. It felt alien compared to his recollections from before he'd left home to wander, a distant reflection in a dull mirror. Then he looked at Duncan and Sasha and decided flowers still grew out of the ash.”

 ~

Book 2: Ice and Embers
Length: 23-46%
POV: Yarrow, Duncan, Sasha, Garith
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

 Again, I'm of two minds. This time, it's really about the lack of consistency within the series. Book 1 was so choked up with sub-plots that all came together into one big plot, while this one has one big plot that isn't that detailed or complicated, is rather obvious and left me rolling my eyes a little, at the unnecessary ending.

 I don't find it at all believable that the members of the order keep going about shouting 'traitor' at Sasha, while trying to kill him. These are the angriest assassins I've ever seen, for a bunch of people who were apparently bred/taught to be devoid of all emotion (actually included in the text as “The Crimson Scythe taught anger and hatred could hamper their work...”). Yet, every single one of them is furious with Sasha and end up being all the sloppier for it. It just doesn't add up.

 I also find it really illogical for the timeline where the order are concerned. There's one part where Sasha is with the order. The timeline reads that he leaves Yarrow and Duncan, goes to a local tavern to get a drink, barely drinks anything and leaves with members of the order. Yarrow and Duncan catch up, barely wasted five minutes talking after Sasha left, followed and have a drink to interrogate the bar girl, only to follow Sasha straight out, not even five or ten minutes after he left. But, somehow, it takes 'what feels like hours' to travel through the path left for them. So, how did the order get Sasha there, set up a trap, torture him and prepare to face Yarrow without anyone being breathless, in such a short time? It's either impossible timing or incomplete explanation of the order using another entrance.

 When it comes to the 'treacherous nobles' storyline, I find it very hard to believe that one cantankerous old woman could create a mob of snobs willing to commit treason just to get their hands on more money and get a new bairn. It seems far too dangerous and outlandish to be believed.

 We were given Garith's POV in this one, but I'm really not sure why. The only thing it showed us is that he is in love with Sanders and that he turns to his mother and wife for advice, which ends with them leading him around with a leash, just as was presumed in the previous book. Neither of these are a surprise and I'm not sure his POV was really needed to show us that, since it was already obvious.

 I was right about who the creature was, which wasn't a surprise, either, as all the signs were there to be put together without much effort. Unfortunately, this story arc was dragged out just like the Sasha and Duncan storyline. While much more interesting and something that I wanted to find out about, it dragged on laboriously for a long, long time, particularly while Yarrow was pretending to be an average, everyday student of magery. I really don't think that part was needed, as there had to be another way for him to find what he needed or at least not put us through the ruse of seeing it all play out.

 Similarly, I found Sasha and Duncan's story arc seriously boring! Their constant quips and bickering was exhausting and annoying, because it only rehashed all the things we already knew they were dealing with, without ever coming to a conclusion without the help of Yarrow. I also didn't like the fact that they could lash out in a physical fight with each other, beating each other in an all out brawn about lack of respect and trust, only to end up in needless sex.

 I love Yarrow and understand Sasha, but while I like him and Duncan, the knight is obtuse and unaccountably stupid. Yarrow says enough in one sentence for anyone with half a brain to make sense of what he means about his past, but Duncan requires a full account, before he can understand what is being said, forcing Sasha to talk about it and Yarrow to hear it, all because he's a complete dunce!

 I liked the addition of Hale and Corbin, who were both intriguing characters who were underused. I would have loved for Hale to stick around with Yarrow, but it doesn't seem like we'll see him again, which is seriously disappointing as his character could have a major influence if just used properly.

 The plot isn't halfway as convoluted or as twisted as book 1, but it's lacking for that. Because, for half of the story, nothing happens that is either interesting or worth sticking around for. Mostly, it's Yarrow pretending to be someone he's not and Duncan and Sasha living together, handing politics. It isn't until halfway through that anything even remotely interesting happens and I actually found myself wishing for the intricate, twisting sub-plots of book 1, just because it would mean something was happening.

 Overall, the story does have less sex, which I wanted, and a less convoluted and twisted plot, but it's all to the story's detriment. The plot was barely existent in some places, the story dragged considerably in places, leaving the entire first half of the novel as boring, dragging and uninteresting. There was no need for Garith's POV, because it only showed us what we already knew. It felt far more like the real arc of the novel wasn't about Yarrow's escape from the creature, Duncan's bairn-ship or their journey back to each other, but actually unrealised, unrequired love, both between Garith and Sanders and Yarrow and Sai. It took Yarrow sailing with Sai to pick up the novel and begin to reach that parts I wanted to read.

 ~

 Favourite Quote

 “The winds are always changing, Yarrow, and all we can do is adjust our sails.”

 “If he needed to, Sasha would spill an ocean of blood to bring them all together again. Their strange little family was the only thing he'd ever valued in his life.”

 ~

Book 3: Iron and Ether
Length: 46-72%
POV: Yarrow, Duncan, Sasha, Garith, Sai, Thalil
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

 I'm beginning to see a definite pattern to this series and how I feel about it. Each one, this included, could have been a 5 star read if not for the silly inconsistencies and niggles that get in the way.

 There are added POV's here, again. First we begin with Thalil, within both the Prologue and the main story, which I actually liked because he's a very interesting character and I like him. But we also had Garith's POV which got a little tiresome after a while. We also had Sai's POV, which was interesting, but it took a long time, almost halfway through, for him to pop up and he appeared so unexpectedly. The whole addition of Garith and Sai's POV's felt really inconsistent and not well thought out, as they both appeared out of nowhere and didn't fit into the timeline. I can see that the author was trying to use them as a distraction when really huge things were happening to Yarrow, Duncan and Sasha, but they were used more to delay showing us the outcome of a huge event and it felt more like filler, at first.

 This story focused on the build up to and the actual war against Johmatra, however it failed to captivate me in that way, because there was a huge build up, between the last book and this one, which was resolved in a paragraph. Each time they had to defeat or fight a new wave of Johmatra, it was resolved within a paragraph or two, while the war councils and the preparations took pages and pages. It would have been far more interesting the other way around.

 The story began intriguingly, with Yarrow confronting the Goddesses and adamant to expose them. However, I can't help but feel that he needs someone on his side, in a physical way, who knows all of his secrets. Hale or Thalil, or even Fane or his Creature inside his head, would be better than nothing. Though I did like to see him finally getting to see his son, who could be an intriguing assistant to him. I still find it sad that his creature has been lost to time. He's a heathen God older and more powerful than any they know, but only Yarrow knows or acknowledges that he ever existed. The fact that the Goddesses don't know about him or just who Yarrow is and what's inside him is intriguing, but it also makes me wonder just how stupid and blind they really are, not to know or at least recognise the signs that are so obvious.

 I love Yarrow, as always, and Sasha gets to shine a little more here, but I still think Duncan is obsolete, an absolute moron who is blind to the obvious and pointless. He adds nothing to the story but doubt, he's always obtuse about the most obvious things and his only real purpose is to provide the 'control' aspect of an experiment: Goddess fearing, true born knight, well respected by nobles and caring what people think. Which is fine, but I don't get why we need him when we're being given all the same things in Garith and Sander. We don't need both. I wasn't surprised in the least, either, that Sasha needed only a sideways glance at Yarrow to know the secret of his son, while Duncan remains oblivious even unto the end of the book.

 Again, the ratio of sex is inconsistent. In places there are really big build ups to it with no follow through and in other places we see copious pages of sex that really aren't needed, important or even logical, considering all these character are going through.

 Similarly, the story has an inconsistency of detail. Sometimes we're shown scenes in full detail that aren't needed and sometimes we're not shown something that is skimmed over, which I want to know more about. The war with Johmatra is a prime example. We saw more detail of Sai rescuing Emiri from the land of Johmatra than we did of his heroic battle to beat them in battle.

 Overall, I loved Thalil and his plotting, Yarrow was still a brilliant character not used to his full potential and his grieving made me cry. The plot was a lot better than that of book 2, but it returned to the problems of book 1, by having too many sub-plots all apparently winding together to make up a larger plot, by adding in Garith, Sai and Thalil's plot arcs haphazardly and without POV consistency. I did love that we got to see a little more of Denna, who is vicious, brilliant, ruthless and cunning. But it still took until the second half for the story to become more consistent, more interesting and connect all the dots.

 ~

 Favourite Quote

 ““Then I will lead the Crimson Scythe, you will rule Windwake, and Yarrow can...do whatever it is he feels destined to do.”
 “Ride the great wyrm asleep in Estrella Lake,” the mage said, looking up at the ceiling, eyes far away. “Raise a great white fortress atop Starmont and look down over all the world. Make a war against...against those who would keep mankind on its knees. Liberate the world from tyranny and champion truth.”
 “Not much, then,” Duncan said. “Accomplished before lunchtime.””

 ~

Book 4: Cairn and Covenant
Length: 72-99%
POV: Octavian, Myrddin, Karl
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

 So, apparently, this is a prequel to the entire series and I'm really not sure why it's included in the bundle, when it is so out of place within the timeline. I get that it's exploring events after the Johmatra war, within the timeline of the ten years of Octavian's life it travels through, but I really don't see why it couldn't have been a companion novel, while the parts with Yarrow were shown in Sasha's POV, since he's the most capable and likely to be able to spy on people enough to overhear whatever Octavian and his new lover spoke about.

 It's an ambitious story, that's for sure, but it tries to fit far too much – ten years of a man's life and achievements, as well as linking to Yarrow's story – within 445 pages. And it feels even longer.

 I also feel a little frustrated by the “non-labelled” beginning, which I presume is the original 0.5 story “A Lesson and a Favor”. The short blurb in this volume describes Cairn and Covenant as “Octavian Rose was given a second chance thanks to an assassin’s unexpected mercy.” except that it's not true. Sasha wasn't sent to kill Octavian, but the people holding him captive, so there was no need for mercy. I was expecting Octavian to be some target or part of a group target, to fulfil the 'mercy' part, but it never happened, which is annoying because it completely set me up for the wrong thing. It's also kind of weird to read about Sasha having sex with Octavian, eight years ago, when you know how deeply in love he is with Yarrow. That's part of the reason it really doesn't belong where it's been placed; it's disorientating to try to forget what's happened until now to move into a past timeline that means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

 The story is told in Octavian's POV primarily, while adding in Myrddin's POV (though, for me, he's too like Duncan as an expendable, not necessary character for me to care much). There's even a point where Karl, a random minor character, gets his POV just so that we can see one singular event that we're already set up to know happens. A simple addition of dialogue or explanation somewhere else would have made his POV obsolete. However, it gets confusing when we switch from 3rd person to 1st, during Octavian's journal entries. It takes some getting used to, as I'm not a fan of shifting tenses within a story.

 There's something very familiar about all of this → it's a carbon copy of book 1! The characters are the same – Duncan/Myrddin, Yarrow/Octavian, Sasha/Sylvain – and the dangerous beginning with the plot arc of a character needing to prove themselves is so reminiscent of Yarrow that it's hard to tell the two apart. They even have the whole “sometimes illusions have their place”, “stronger than he thinks” and “people want to be led” conversations repeated throughout dialogue and the main text, exactly as Sasha and Duncan have repeatedly gone on and on about both, during the previous three books.

 Octavian is an interesting character, but it's hard to tell if that's because of who he is or because he's so like Yarrow, who I already love. His brief and fortuitous meeting with Sasha was intriguing, but there really was just too much story. It all linked together, as the entire book was about following Octavian from boyhood to warrior, but once again there was a lack of consistency when it came to detail. It could have easily been a hundred pages shorter if you removed the copious sex (which I, again, skimmed) as well as the scenes we really didn't need to see directly. That would have made way for some of the more interesting scenes to get more attention than they were given.

 There is no explanation in timeline or dialogue given for how or when Octavian learned to read sign language, sign it and understand it so well as to have a rant with Dirk. At one point on the page, he says he's barely able to follow, that he knows some words etc, then at a later point, he's ranting away with a long flowery speech that would be impossible for a novice. Sure, he's been around Dirk for a few weeks/months, as far as we know, but there's no explanation for how quickly it happens.

 Fabrezio – Breeze – is in this story quite a bit, beginning at around late teenage years and progressing over the next ten years. However, the side story “Wine and Roses” of the new Other Paths series, is meant to be about him. But, we know all we need to know about him and his journey in this book. It tells us everything we need to know about where he went, why, what happened and whether or not he goes back or not, and what reception he's likely to receive, so I really don't understand why he needs his own novel when we see everything we need to know about him here. It confuses me, because I feel a little duped. I went and bought Wine and Roses only to feel like I know everything I need to know about that book from this story. Fabrezio is such a minor character, though interesting, that it really doesn't feel necessary for him to have an entire 224 page book about him.

 What I did want to see, read about or explore, was Sylvain returning to his lost love from Elvara. Instead, he enjoyed a lot of sleeping around, including being part of Octavian and Myrddin's open relationship, while never exposing more than a glimmer of what lay underneath.

 The way Octavian grieved, forgetting during his drunken nights and then having to remember his loss again, was heartbreaking to read. It was one of the few moments where I was really able to connect with him, as a character. I especially liked the way that he and Yarrow got along so well, when they met at the end of the novel. It's no wonder that they got along, being so similar, but it was nice to see that both Octavian and D'Aurelian feared Yarrow so much as to consider him a threat worth keeping an eye on. They seem to be the only two, bar Sasha, who really understand how devastatingly dangerous Yarrow might be. However, I find it really weird and a little disturbing, that Octavian keeps calling himself old, that he's grey haired and wrinkled, at just age 38. It makes him read like he's eighty, when he's in the prime of his life. It's very off putting.

 I'm also, honestly, a little disappointed that Sylvain never returned to offer his condolences to Octavian over his loss or even helped fight at his side. He was so close to Octavian, more than any other person in the Roses, that it felt wrong for him not to even acknowledge it. Either he never heard about it (which seems impossible, since the entire world is shook up over the Johmatra incident and word has spread all throughout Garith's kingdom about Octavian's rule) or he selfishly didn't care, once his life was back on track. Either way, I wanted an explanation. Even a sentence. And I hope I get it in future stories, somewhere.

 Overall, I took a star off for the massive similarities to Yarrow's story – characterisation, dialogue, copious sex and a plot that flags frequently – while I took another star off for the fact that it's unnecessarily placed and far too long. It's a good story, but putting it between books 3 and 5 just breaks up the flow of Yarrow's journey, for no reason. It tells us nothing vital to our understanding of what Yarrow is going through, unless we also get Octavian's POV in book 5, which I'm yet to discover.

 I don't see why this couldn't have been a nice little story within the Other Paths companion series, just like Breeze's story is, or a 4.5 novella of Yarrow encountering Octavian and learning about him organically, through his reputation, instead of leading us through ten years of history that is only important to Octavian and is likely to have no bearing on what comes next except that those ten years led him to Yarrow. Unless his debt to Julien comes back into play, it really makes no sense. It doesn't feel necessary to rehash the entire Battle of Starlight Bridge when we saw it all already. Sure, a whole two seconds worth of what happened there relates to Breeze ending up with his own story but, again, it's already told directly to Octavian, so it doesn't need to be shown in the battle or in its own novel.
 It makes no sense to take us eight years into the past, before any of the events of Yarrow's journey, putting more distance between the reader and the events of book 4 which, at this point, I feel like I have to go back to re-read just to remember what has happened, which is something I'm not willing to do at this juncture.

 ~

 Favourite Quote

 “Yarrow was dangerous, like a storm, as likely to decimate his allies as his enemies.”

 ~

Short: Archer's Regret
Length: 99-100%
POV: Sylvain
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

 So, this is the story I wanted of Sylvain going to Elvara to search for his lost love. Except, it's 1% long, which is probably all that was needed to tell Breeze's story as well. I'd rather have enjoyed a nice long 200+ page novel about Sylvain, who was left a complete mystery in Cairn and Covenant, than read about a story where I already know the ending.

 However, that's a problem for another day.

 I liked this story, but it felt rushed and I'd have liked it to be at least double the length, if not longer, just to properly explore all the nuances of Sylvain and Aeris' problems. I would have liked to have seen a flashback or recollection of their first meeting, or something that shows me they really know each other, something to show us who Sylvain and Aeris are as people on their own, before throwing them together. I felt very little chemistry between them, because everything they have with each other is in the path, so we don't get to see anything bar them having sex and arguing.

This story, however, is simply about Sylvain taking a risk and trying to get Aeris back. Nothing more, nothing less, and with very little detail about the who, how, what or why. I was, in a word, disappointed.

 ~

OVERALL

 I'm a fan of August Li, normally, but this one had too many issues for me. It's a solid 3 star, no question about it, but it was more a case of being “okay” than “fantastic”.

 The book started with a glossary that was huge and very detailed, which would normally be great. However, it looks big when you first see it and it's a little intimidating thinking that you might have to remember some of that information for later, when it pops up in the story. That's not true. Most of the important stuff is explained at the time of the use of the word, just not in great detail. So the glossary is a great little addition if you want to go back and read more about the individual thing. Otherwise, it's not much more than a handy reference tool for those, like me, with a terrible memory.

 There is a lack of consistency within the series, in terms of plot strength and characterisation. In book 1, Yarrow was strong, unstoppable and erratic, while he became weak and emotional in book 2, leaving him nothing more than a child in book 3, with barely any strength at all. Yet, the glimpses we see of him in book 4 show that old spark back, which has really only made an appearance in books 2 and 3 when someone Yarrow loved was threatened. This felt wrong, considering all he'd been through and done, while Sasha grew more and more with each book, leaving Duncan the only consistently boring character throughout.

 There were editing issues throughout the entire bundle, with words missing or extra words added. It didn't diminish the understanding of the sentence, but it was noticable. And I found the use of the words 'bairn' for a title and 'tam' in place of 'sir' really confusing, because I'm Scottish and these words actually mean something to me, already. It was really disorientating to constantly hear people being called Tam something-or-other, yet having to remember that it was never their name. And trying to think of 'bairn' – a term used for a child – being used as a title just felt contradictory and sounded stupid in my head when reading about Bairn Duncan (though I agree with the sentiment, in this case).

 The consistency of sex (overdone in book 1, for example, while rare in book 2 and inconsistent within book 3) was also a problem. I ended up skimming the sex by book 3, because it just went on for so many pages. It seemed like everyone, no matter the danger, the risk, no matter how injured or exhausted they were, had plenty of time for sex. Eventually, it just got a little old. There is definitely a hint of sadomasichism within Sasha, who likes biting to the point of blood during sex in the first two books, but even that was inconsistent. I also had a problem with the ridiculous conversations during sex, which often extended to repetitively asking if it was alright to 'take' someone, literally moments after they were begging for that very thing. It got a little tiresome, after a while.

 The Order of the Crimson Scythe, for me, were a little pathetic as enemies. Sasha had a great skill to use within the tasks they needed it for, but the order never once achieved what they were aiming for when facing Sasha. Now, they say he was talented, but I refuse to believe that they have no one who is equal to or exceeds his talents after spending thousands of years training people the exact same way he'd been trained.

 I find it really annoying and frustrating that so many things are repeated, not just throughout the series, but even within individual books. Like the fact that Sasha wishes Duncan could accept him; Duncan forcing Yarrow to eat; Duncan doubting Yarrow, being afraid of him, wishing he wouldn't use his power, wishing Sasha wasn't an assassin. Like I said above, it's all about Duncan being a dunce and it gets really annoying to read about it, over and over again, while already not liking him.

 I loved Yarrow. He was the shining star of the series for me, along with his doppelganger Octavian. His journey was by far the most interesting when he had his creature, but I also loved the Fane/Hale plot arc and wish it had been utilised better. I really didn't care for the whole Sasha/Duncan parts where they were getting by without Yarrow and getting embroiled in court/Royal matters. For me, I'd have been happy if the story never deviated away from Yarrow's POV or his journey. Maybe if it had been solely about Yarrow I would have enjoyed it more.

 For me, the addition of Cairn and Covenant, Archer's Regret and the future book of Wine and Roses could have been compiled into a Volume 2 of related stories, rather than adding two of the three into this bundle, where they didn't feel cohesive or logical in timeline or plot arc. The parts of Cairn and Covenant that are important could easily have been assimilated into Yarrow's story, through a secondary character as I mentioned above, to keep everything important within the one bundle.

 Overall, the stories are all connected by the same characters and a singular plot arc, of Yarrow's destiny, but I found them too fragmented and inconsistent to 'love' them. I enjoyed some parts more than others, some characters more than others and some books more than others. But I'm still left with questions:
 Who ordered the assassins to target Sasha? Why? Why are the Goddesses hoarding magic and what for? Why can't the Goddesses see what's inside Yarrow? Why didn't they recognise the power of the creature inside of him? Will having Fane's essence inside of him alter Yarrow at all or is it just a way to get rid of Fane from the plot? Why isn't Hale helping when the world is crumbling around him and his oblivious existence is threatened? Doesn't he feel any responsibility towards Yarrow at all, considering it's partly his fault that he's in the situation he's in?

 However, what annoys me is that this isn't a complete series. It would have made more sense to include book 5: Calling and Culling, as part of this bundle or ended the bundle as a trilogy, to be picked up in a second volume, as the blurb for book 5 hints at an end to the plot arc of the first three books here. Whether it delivers will have to wait until I've read it to decide. Either way, there is no ending to this bundle that satisfies me. The end of book 3 leaves us with promises of more, Yarrow in limbo, and everything up in the air. Book 4 ends with Octavian plotting how to get close to Yarrow and figuring out which side he wants to take in the future, while the short, Archer's Regret, hints at a future for Sylvain, but gives away nothing about where it will take place or whether he'll re-enter the series. To me, everything about these three endings leave me screaming “cliffhanger” and feeling frustrated that I've read over a thousand pages to reach no ending.

 In the end, while the plot arc is interesting enough to follow through on, it's not a series that I would eagerly return to re-read. And, if there is ever a book 6 or more, I will avoid my usual re-reading of the entire series so far before catching up, and just jump straight in, regardless of whether I can remember the nuances or not. There's just too much here to re-read before another helping.

 Right now, I'm going straight into book 5, then Other Paths book 1, before I forget who the characters are or what their plans are. In the future, though, I'll be hesitant to pick up another book in this series, so I seriously hope that book 5 offers an ending I can be happy with, because this bundle didn't. There is a huge cliffhanger that leaves me with more questions than answers and I don't know if there are any more books planned for this series, but it may be a case of me being happier leaving an open ending than delving back into such a complicated world that is merely “okay”.

EW
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