Every time I start a Jenn Lyons book I’m immediately overwhelmed and intrigued, and every time I finish a Jenn Lyons book I’m overwhelmed and desperate for more. It’s a very particular delight that comes with books so long and dense that the multiple glossaries and references at the end are not so much a helpful addition but a book unto themselves. This is, after all, not a book. It is a world.
Lyons’ world is distilled into book form, of course, but this third installment makes clear how very, very wide and deep it is. There are centuries of political machinations, millennia of history, and such a dizzying array of cultures, races, religions, magical abilities…the list goes on. The story isn’t an encyclopedia given beginning and end; it’s a narrow window on a wide scene that you know continues in every direction forever, even if you can’t see any further.
This is, then, the third window through which we can see both time and space. Ruin of Kings was Kihrin’s story, and Janel’s story in The Name of All Things happened mostly simultaneously in the continuity. The “real time” progress from book one to book two could be measured in days; now we get to add another few weeks, along with another heaping of history to give everything context. But the history comes (a little) later. After the crushing betrayal and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in The Name of All Things, we open Memory of Souls with…another betrayal and defeat, albeit less crushing. I think our heroes are getting used to it.
At least the surroundings provide some novelty. Our heroes are pitched into the Korthaen Blight, dragged across the Doltari City-States, and at last get to visit the realm of the vané, who are like elves except they have no qualms about being assholes. Horny assholes. (Tolkien this is not.) But not all of the vané want to kill them or bed them. Some of them are relatives!
Yes, it’s time to meet the family, which gets very uncomfortable for Kihrin and Teraeth as they realize just how confusing and messed up their histories are. Swapped bodies, reborn souls, and secret parentage makes a very tangled web indeed, even before you throw in the magical powers and proximity to the vané throne.
At one point my husband found me cheerfully consulting all three books’ extensive family trees, cross-referencing and making notes. Not everyone will find this enjoyable, which is fine, since the narrative is pretty well complete without going too deep. But for those who like the deep cuts, easter eggs, and twisty mysteries, Memory of Souls has plenty of tantalizing little details you can spend hours digging through.
For those who want action, though, be assured: there is plenty of action. Swords rain from the sky at one point; hordes of undead attack, as well as several dragons, both separately and together; there’s a jailbreak, an assassination, and all manner of sneaky violence; there’s a tense legal battle; and the list goes on here, too. Lyons crams absolutely everything possible into her stories, blowing up plot lines as often as possible (sometimes literally!). I am consistently impressed at how she sets up intense, elaborate schemes that I think will last a whole book at least, and then takes them to their logical conclusion within about a hundred pages, only to make things more complicated for the characters. It reminds me a bit of The Good Place: what could have taken a whole season got brought up, resolved, and escalated within a few episodes instead. I’m all for it: playing with the pacing is a great way to execute a twist and tease reader expectations.
Given all the violence, there’s a surprising amount of romance tying everyone together when it’s not driving everyone apart. We have three Disaster Bisexuals™ fumbling with their feelings, an Ace wizard actively denying hers, and a shockingly large number of romantic confessions, each uniquely touching, all of them defying some convention or other. Do you want to see people rejecting their internalized prejudices, their abusive upbringings, their instilled class and rank sensibilities? Then you’ll definitely find something to swoon over. Or, do you prefer quiet but profound respect? Or maybe deeply screwed up dynamics? Yes, those are in there too. I love it all.
Love, action, politics, and magic: this book, like the previous two, has it all. The drama is so character-driven that all of its has emotional weight, and the stakes continue to ratchet up, which I didn’t think was possible. It’s an engrossing, near-perfect work of epic fantasy.
The lynchpin of the plot is…maybe not my favorite of all the possible revelations. We discover that a key aspect of the Ritual of Night has been concealed, a revelation that is less a shocking twist and more a classification error. Oops! Certain individuals who have been trying to complete this ritual for decades, sacrificing time and power and family, will just…have to give up now! That’s what people do when their long-terms plans are thwarted, right?
How an immortal, near-godly being could think that withholding crucial information would somehow make everyone less angry than just ’fessing up in the first place is beyond me. It’s kind of boneheaded, even if it may have seemed like the best option.
But the gods are idiots, too. That’s maybe this book’s particular meditation: that power concentrated in too few hands is never good. Which makes me love the idea of four chosen ones even more. Kihrin, Janel, Thurvishar, and Teraeth share the burden of their power and their destiny. It’s yet another clever way Lyons plays with tropes and expectations. Their bond has only grown over the course of this book, and I am both overjoyed and heartbroken to see how far they go by the final pages. Waiting for the next book, as usual, will be agony. But unlike certain other authors I could name, this is Lyons’ third massive book in less than two years. (Holy crap.) I have complete faith that I am not waiting in vain, because I fully trust that the next book really is forthcoming, and that it will be amazing in every way.