Two years ago, when I’d finished reading From Cold Ashes Risen, I thought I had finished a brilliant trilogy that would rank among the greats in the grimdark pantheon. I still hold to that belief, but I was pleasantly surprised early this year when Rob J. Hayes released a continuation of Eska’s story in Sins of the Mother. It seems she wasn’t finished with the world just yet.
Ten years retired from ruling her kingdom, Eskara Helsene is enjoying her life away from it all. She lives in a village called Wrysom where everyone believes her to be an eccentric old wise woman. Only one little girl calls her “The Corpse Queen” these days, and she’s doing so in jest. The poor thing doesn’t realize how close to the mark she hit with her casual insult.
”Still, I was old now, and all my life I was reliably informed that age brings wisdom and patience and a bunch of other useless things we tend to ignore in the fires of our youth.”
All is peaceful, until it isn’t. A Sourcerer from a large city comes to announce that trouble is brewing, that all the people in another village have disappeared. She is asked to help learn the reason. Before long, she is found by her adopted sister Imiko, who Eska had left to run her kingdom in her absence. Imiko tells Eska that her daughter Sirileth has left on her own mysterious adventure.
”Drink the amount Imiko had, and your tongue becomes unstuck, and truths you’ve been guarding with good purpose come tumbling out like flies from a bloated corpse.”
Of course, these events are connected, and soon Eska is drawn back in, forced into active status as her identity is eventually revealed to her villagers and she is banished. As Eska accompanies Imiko to find her wayward daughter and discover what strange forces are at work, she is brought full circle back to being the thing that she’d been hiding from all these years.
”Sorry isn’t an apology, it’s just begging to be forgiven without doing the work to warrant it.”
This was a great read, and fit like a comfortable glove after so much time both in the publishing world and in the story itself. What began in book one, Along the Razor’s Edge and continued in The Lessons Never Learned found a return to the narrative decades after From Cold Ashes Risen and despite the gap in time, it’s like we never left Eska’s world. But now the focus isn’t as much on her rise to power as it is those of her heirs to the kingdom, and Eska’s challenge now is to prevent them from becoming the monster that was Eskara Helsene.
”It was still dark all the time, there were no windows anywhere and so everything was lit with lanterns and torches. No matter how many of those you light, the shadows always find corners to dwell in.”
There is another (and final?) entry in The War Eternal series coming out near the end of this year, and it’s safe to say that this reader will be anxious to see what comes next for our Corpse Queen and those close to her.