“Legacy of Kings” is the third book in C. S. Friedman’s Magister Trilogy, which began with Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath. I’m going to try to be as vague and spoiler-free as I can, which is always difficult when reviewing the third book in a series.
The book begins with a poetic introduction recounting the events of the first two volumes, citing the major events and figures of which the bards will one day sing. I was grateful for this introduction. I had read “Wings of Wrath” many months after reading “Feast of Souls,” and had found when I read it that I had forgotten some characters and plot points that were important and relevant to the second book. The introductory text prevented that problem, and created a much more enjoyable reading experience.
The book follows new developments in humanity’s war against the Souleaters, giant dragonfly creatures who have bonded with human riders to create intelligent soul-eating monsters that threaten the very existence of civilization.
The story follows many different characters, with none of them forming what I’d like to think of as a main protagonist. This style works here a lot better than it did in the second book (which might have had something to do with the fact that I read the second and third books within a month or two of each other). The closest thing to a main character or heroine would be Kamala, the only female Magister. In this book we also discover that there is a much darker secret as to why Magisters cannot be women, and that it isn’t the soft-hearted slightly sexist bullshit that the Magisters explained in the first book. I was happy to discover that there is more to the Magisters’ nature than meets the eye, and that Friedman had created a story that was far more complex than I expected.
One of the things that impresses me the most about C. S. Friedman’s writing is that her characters are morally ambiguous. I’ve mentioned this when reviewing the earlier books, but it bears repeating. Nobody in the book is purely good or purely evil, but instead characters have complex and multi-faceted personalities and ambitions. Kamala, for instance, is a strong female character, but at the same time, she doesn’t seem to care that she’s feeding on human souls and that the very exercise of her powers means that innocents will die. King Salvator used to be a monk and views Magisters as an abomination, and is so dense that he’d rather ask witches to give their lives for him than to make use of a Magister’s power, even if it will provide a strategic advantage in combat or save his life. There were many times that I wanted to slap him for his idiocy. Then there’s Siderea, who becomes the Queen of the Souleaters… much as I’d like to hate her, she doesn’t want to eradicate humanity completely, but rather to create an empire that would serve her own needs. I felt bad for her because the Magisters all knew how to save her, but were content to watch her die even after sexually taking advantage of her for years. We can sympathize with the villains and get pissed off at our heroes, and we end up rooting for humanity as a whole rather than specific factions or characters.
Overall, I was quite pleased with the entire trilogy, and “Legacy of Kings” was a perfect conclusion. This is a great series for someone who’s looking for some dark epic fantasy that isn’t just a rehashing of Tolkein, but rather is a complex and original series set in a world where everything has a price.