Picking up where she left off in The Uncrowned King, Rowena Cory Daniells brings her King Rolen's King trilogy to a close (if not an altogether tidy conclusion) with The Usurper.
This final instalment begins much as we would expect, with King Byren quietly raising a rebellion under the nose of his cousin, Lord Cobalt. Although largely consisting of young boys, maimed men, and resourceful old women, the fate of his arm slowly begins to turn with the emergence of the last living warrior monks. Together, they sneak over hidden passes, led by Orrie and Florin, to recruit the support of the same warlords who swore fealty to his father just months before.
Meanwhile, Piro and Fyn find themselves on the other side of the world, prisoners of tyrants and pirates. It is here that the novel really shines, with the development of some intricate political manoeuvring, backstabbing, conspiracies, and secrets. The friendship between Piro and Isolt is an intriguing development, bridging the warring factions, of you will, and offering a glimmer of hope for a peaceful future. Fyn, meanwhile, is forced to confront his fears, to sacrifice his future, and to take a role in the conflict that his status as a monk would have once forbid.
As the three becoming entangled with Tyro, agent of the mysterious Mage, the story takes an interesting and dramatic turn. Espionage and hidden agendas come to the forefront, with allies turning up in the most unexpected places, and treachery looming in ever shadow. The climactic battle of Rolencia that we had been expecting never comes to pass, with the story centring instead around a more intimate battle of wills. Palatyne and Byren do get their final confrontation, but within the distant halls of Merofynia. Even then, the outcome is not what we've come to expect, but there is a sort of poetic justice in how it all works out. Like I said earlier, it doesn't completely resolve the story line (there's still a traitorous cousin in charge across the sea), robbing us of possibly the most anticipated showdown in the series, but it does offer us hope for a successful resolution.
Should this turn out to be the end of the series, I would have to admit to a little disappointment. There are too many questions left unanswered, too many relationships left in limbo, and too much violence left off the page. The story really does demand one more volume but, should that come to pass, it wouldn't take much to transform that disappointment into satisfaction.