The Killing Light is the last book of an immense trilogy that is both satisfying and haunting. I will be thinking about this book long after having finished it.
“The sword, the spear, these are the instruments of the soldier. The Emperor’s hands succor and provision, heal and mend. They bear the threshing flail, the only weapon that may make bread as readily as it may take life.”
—WRIT. IMP. XXI. 17.
Myke Cole has emotionally raked me over the coals. He pulled no punches in this conclusion and has laid Heloise bare emotionally, physically, and mentally on the altar of grimdark fantasy. Heloise’s story, The Killing light, is the final book of The Sacred Throne Trilogy (The Armored Saint; Queen of Crows). It is also the last book of a series that Cole has written to prove to himself and the world that he can, indeed, write a profoundly dark and morally gray series outside of his normal prevue of military-based fiction.
He nailed it.
The Killing Light is an emotionally intense and raw story. So much so that I had to put the novel down at certain points to take a breather. Heloise and her allies face the greatest challenge of their lives.
Is she the palatine of legend? What does it mean to be a hero and save everyone that can be saved? Heloise was never meant to be the hero of all. She is a young girl, meant to live out her days in a village. But one cannot choose their fate, nor who they fall in love with. All we can ever do is exist and make choices. Do our best. That is all Heloise has ever aspired to do.
Writing-wise, this story is the outcome of a few concurrently running plots. Firstly, the overarching theme of different groups is how to exist in a world of religious fervor. I especially enjoyed how Cole handled this.
There is absolute consistency in the four mentalities that Cole writes for. We have the Traveling People, Free Peoples, Villagers, and Gray Clokes. All of the cultures are equally delved into and represent different parts of the religious spectrum. Cole writes them as if they are rivers that twist and turn tumultuously over each other. Each of the main characters from different cultures reacts to situations based on their own set of experiences. It is masterfully done.
Cole creates a world full of blood and ambiguous situations. He takes a look at these complex characters and delves even deeper into their psyches. How much can a character take before that character breaks? In some cases, quite a lot, in other cases, not much. We see many of the main characters, such as Heloise, Samson, Xilkya, Onas, and Tone, flayed emotionally. I am not going to give to many details, I don’t want to spoil it. But aside from Heloise, Onas and Tones journeys are compelling and heartbreaking.
“War, she was finding, was nothing so much as a series of choices between bad and worse.”
One of the exhausting and fantastic things about The Killing Light is the pacing. I guess I should say just speed because there is only one pace in this story. Fast and unrelenting. Every moment that is written into this novella is utilized. There are no throwaways or dalliance. Much like the first two books in the series, The Killing Light is skinned to the bone. It is minimalistic writing, as there are no words wasted. Cole tells you precisely what is happening and how. This doesn’t mean that there is no character development, as I said above, the characters’ journeys are compelling. It is a testament to Cole’s skill in writing that he can say so much with so little.
I don’t believe that this novel should be read on its own. You can, of course, but I think that this book should be read after the first two. The reader will get much more from the choices and decisions of the characters. Cole doesn’t spend a lot of time going over the minutiae of the first two stories.
In the end, I believe that Heloise is the character we need right now in fantasy. We need morally gray characters, written with thought and nuance. Ones where sexuality, emotions, backstory, and decisions are written well and with forethought. This series and especially The Killing Light are that in spades. “Just one more impossible thing” sums up the drive and overarching theme of this series. Heloise sends herself into the darkness to conquer just one more impossible thing over and over.
I am so glad that Cole has taken us readers for the ride.
Check out The Killing Light by Myke Cole on November 12th.
ARC provided by the publisher Tor.com—in exchange for an honest review. Read an excerpt here.