Sacred Band is the concluding book in the Acacia trilogy following the four Akaran royal children to their destinies as decreed by fate, history and a lot of magic. Sweeping, ambitious and a shining example of what EPIC fantasy should be – one of the few modern tales that is self-contained within three volumes and packs in a knock-out punch deadlier than most volumes in the running today that spans more than six volumes ( Yeah, you…old man with long white beard and a sailor’s cap who has kept me waiting for more than ten years now to finish what was then my ever- favorite fantasy series!) Unlike most authors who start off with a promise of a trilogy and then milk their franchise as a money-making never-ending series keeping us readers in doldrums of frustration. This series will be the perfect antidote for all of you twiddling your thumbs and bemoaning their fates having started to read such series. A wonderful and eminently laudable effort that combines the old world Tolkien-esque philosophy of destiny’s children growing up to inherit the larger-than-life duties mantle thrust on them and going on to accomplish world-changing heroics and the newer style of fantasy writing that squeezes in a lot of grit and tons of gore trespassing through the lands of grey morality and loose ethics. I absolutely loved this whole series for reasons more than one.
Read my review of Book One (Acacia) here .
Durham is an accomplished world-builder who crafts characters with both hindsight and foresight – maybe the fact that he is a historical fiction writer added this depth to his craft, but a world that rivals Middle-Earth in scope and maybe even surpasses that in terms of sheer imagination – ideas of war, monarchies, freedom, social castes, the myriad races and societal hierarchies – it’s a richly painted canvas that reflects back a realistic historical bygone era. It smacks of authenticity and the in-depth details completely suck you into this beautiful believable secondary world of Acacia. I for one am a big fan now and can’t wait for what Durham is going to write next.
Book One was self-contained and most threads tied up but in book two, Durhams ups the game and ratchets up the tension levels bringing into play a more than one newer set of awe-inspiring antagonists who are all set to upset the balance of nature in this new world, also shifting our focus to an entirely new world, expanding beyond the Known Worlds – the world of Ushen Brae, the lands of the Free People caught in their struggles for freedom and independence. By Book Three (Sacred Band), there is a clear focus on three to four different story arcs – each of them featuring one of the royal children. The first arc features my favorite character Corinn who is now Queen of the Known Worlds, has a greater control of her magical prowess and uses it completely to subjugate her people, bring back dead people and liquefy and melt the rebellious Numrek Armies on the battle-grounds. But the song has opened rifts in the mortal world and also it calls to itself, the Santoth – the terrible beautiful outcasts who may not be what they seem and are out to stop Corinn. In the second story line, we follow Mena who is stuck in a “300-King Leonidas” like situation trying to stop a terrifying battle-machine, the mighty Auldeks, a brutal race of immortal giants who are out on a world-domination bid moving away from their own freezing cold-bitten lands beyond civilizations. Meanwhile, Dariel is on a mission to uncover his own destiny that is closely linked up with a strange race who call themselves the Free People, all the slave-children who had grown up and now demand their freedom from the Auldeks and also the mysterious beautiful race called Lothan Auklan. The League have their claws in different plots to continue their behind-the-scenes manipulations through Machiavellian strategies to control trade in the Known World and also beyond. How these different story lines trace their inevitable way to a climactic ending will leave you in turns, surprised, shocked but definitely satisfied at all levels.
I thought this book was probably the strongest in the lot of three since by now, the characters and the world has achieved a surprising level of depth and solidity and I was sufficiently invested in pretty much most of the front line characters. I say frontline, because Durham’s sweeping broadstrokes paints up realistic three dimensional well realized secondary characters whose individual adventures and storylines would very well take up another couple of books by itself. But Durham keeps it tight and always comes back to the three-four central conflicts/themes of the story. The kind of growth and the evolutionary trajectory that the characters in this series go through is un-paralleled ( considering the fact that most of the Stark children are still finding their own destinies and are only in book five in a planned eight-book series, grin!)
That said, what scores for the book is that most of it is plot-driven. Having built up the storylines and tension in book two, Durham throws us right into the eye of the storm – some fantastic individual action set pieces, sweeping bloody big battles, brutal dragon-fights (yeah – dig that!!) and well, magic. The Santoth and Corinn are heading for a showdown, you know it is coming and you cannot wait? Well, the fact that her character zigzags through lands of grey and ambiguous had kept the proceedings extremely interesting until book two – So I will let you find out what is her destiny.
Overall, a triumphant fitting finale to a most intriguing but enjoyable series of epic fantasy. Full four stars.