Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell is the third and final book in the Ash and Sand trilogy. The Ash and Sand books chronicle the adventures of a barbarian prophet named Ruka, a sorcerer prince named Kale, and a peasant-born priestess named Dala. The people of the Ashlands are prone to famine, disease, and civil strife but Ruka has promised them a new land. Like Moses, Ruka claims the gods have given them a new home and that he will lead them there. The big difference is that Ruka is making his connection to the gods up.
Ruka’s attempts to build an alliance with King Farahi has failed miserably. Due to uncontrollable and unforeseeable events, Kale led an attack on his father’s own allies and managed to devastate both his own army as well as that of Ruka’s before getting himself taken out of the race for king. Worse, this was done right before the Naran Empire prepared for a massive invasion that will drown the islands’ defenses in sheer numbers.
The story has a lot of strength from the fact that Ruka has lost his most valuable ally and suffered tremendous losses. The only way he can prepare for the coming attack is by making alliances using diplomacy, something that Ruka is horrible at. It doesn’t help that the sister of King Farahi, Kikay, fully intends to betray Ruka for the doom that he has brought to their forces. It is an interesting political situation that requires cool, pragmatic, and ruthless heads to prevail in.
Part of what makes this series so good is that it errs on the side of cynicism as well as pragmatism in its decision making. The characters are very often murderers, liars, oath-breakers, cheats, and worse. However, the book presents them as more than this. The dream of paradise and a better life for the children of Ash is something that Ruka believes can redeem him of even the worst sin. There are many other characters who compromise or outright discard their moralities out of the desire to do better by their loved ones.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Osco. A proud warrior of a people conquered by the Empire of Naran years ago, he has long desired to overthrow the Emperor and destroy its people (based on the Han Chinese). However, Osco finds himself outcast and betrayed by his people when the Empire of Naran offers to restore him as well as provide for his wife as well as daughter. It is a bargain that cuts to the core of his being but you understand fully why he would choose to make it.
If Kings of Heaven has one major weakness, it is the fact that it spends a good half of its length dealing with the final battle when the character interaction, as well as complicated politics, is far more interesting. The book does provide a satisfying and conclusive ending to the storyline, though. Romances never come to be, peace comes at a price, and there is a good portion of the cast dead but the results are realistic to the events.
Kings of Heaven is a perfect end to a grimdark tale.
Read Kings of Heaven By Richard Nell