I just don’t know folks. After feeling like I started to understand some stuff Anna Smith Spark was trying to do with this series after reading book two, I don’t really get what this final book in the trilogy meant to achieve. I know I said something similar at the start of my review of The Tower of Living and Dying but I genuinely don’t have much to say about this book cos it just didn’t do much for me. It might be something to do with reading all three books back to back in the space of a week but by the end of reading this series I was honestly ready to give up on my grimdark reading project and never pick the genre up again because these books made me feel like absolute shit. They’re just so utterly depressing man, the amount of killing and death and pain and suffering and abject fucking misery every character endures is just too much, honestly. And look, I’m the guy who chose to read 31 grimdark books for a month-long blogging event, so I’m no stranger to some pretty nasty shit happening in books, but at the same time that stuff still has to be part of a compelling story, ya know? To take a very mainstream example for comparison’s sake; in A Game of Thrones, the character deaths serve a purpose, they propel the plot forward and have consequences for how the story develops; here it just felt like gratuitous gore after a while and after getting quite enough of that in the first two books I think I just hit my limit here.
Since I started this reading project I’ve had a few conversations about why grimdark is one of my favourite fantasy genres when it’s done well. However, it’s a genre that skirts a fine line between defying or subverting genre conventions and simply being trite or overbearing in its attempt to continually push boundaries. I do unfortunately think some modern grimdark is trending towards the latter because it’s not actually subverting anything anymore; at its inception it was a revolutionary thing to write these kinds of stories, but now in 2021 it’s kind of become the new normal. Whether the Empires of Dust books fall into this category or whether I’m simply not clever or intellectually curious enough to interrogate all the things Anna Smith Spark is doing with these books I don’t know. What I do know is that even if it’s the latter I’m not particularly enthusiastic about spending much of my time ruminating on a series that made me feel such abject misery.
I’m sorry this isn’t so much a review of the book (about which I have very little to say) and more a short rumination on the state of grimdark and some of the dangers it faces as a modern genre trying to stay relevant. And look, there are people who love the Empires of Dust series and one day maybe I’ll read some of the five star reviews and perhaps have my eyes opened about why these books are actually incredible, but for now I don’t even want to carry on writing about them, I’d just quite like to forget about it for now and try and rediscover some element of joy in my life.
Did you enjoy this review? Find it useful? Follow the blog and never miss a post!