As 2020 finishes up, one of the very few things I’m sad to see go is the Wells of Sorcery trilogy, a bright spot full of action, romance, and magic that took me out of this waking nightmare. A Siege of Rage and Ruin keeps to that trend set by the previous two books and provides a rollicking last ride for its heroines. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m glad for the way it ends: Tori and Isoka’s stories wrap up nicely as they finally reunite in the smoldering war zone of their home city and try to make freedom out of the wreckage.
This year and so many reads have been so grim and miserable that it was a surprise to read a book that didn’t inflict the worst possible options on its characters at every single opportunity. Yes, there’s struggle, and yes, they face setbacks. But this is a heroic, triumphant story, not a gigantic downer. This year has really made me forget that books like this are possible, and I was happy to be reminded.
The biggest example of this was Tori, who never went full Dark Phoenix like I was dreading. Yes, she had some moral questions to work through, but she did so without turning into a monster and having to be talked back from some ultimate sin. It was nice to read a character who was struggling with her convictions and limits who kept a relatively level head. Who didn’t have to go bad to know that being bad was…well, bad.
Of course, Tori is the calmer and more collected sister, the balance to Isoka’s rough and ready aggression. After essentially two books apart it’s nice to finally see their two extremes interact, not just contrast in alternating chapters. The volatility of their opposite personalities creates some solid drama, but nothing so extreme it can’t be tempered by their loving devotion.
Seeing sisters struggle to redefine their relationship after time (and trauma) apart made for a great emotional heart of the book. Previously it was Isoka and Meroe whose romance created the emotional core, but they’ve been solid since book two—loving, mutually respectful, balanced, you name it. Wexler didn’t throw a wrench in their relationship or make them act out of character just to generate drama, for which I have nothing but the tip of my hat. It’s not just romance that can drive plotlines!
Well, romance did drive a minor plotline, but I’m glad to say it also wasn’t forced to come to some grand conclusion. Tori and Garo were both interesting and had a lot in common, but they also had a lot that divided them. Seeing that work itself out to its natural conclusion, without any overwrought speeches, really added realism and complexity to the narrative.
Since the magic is Sanderson-y (think Mistborn) I was unconsciously expecting one of Sanderson’s meticulous endings, with every last little detail folded precisely into place. Sanderson’s books are origami; Wexler’s, though, are paintings. They’re balanced in their composition, but they’re not gear-perfect, clock-precise.
I’m not criticizing either type of ending. Because of his precise outlining, Sanderson’s implied thesis is that there is a plan, that the universe has synchronies and well-fitting pieces. Wexler doesn’t subscribe to this idea quite as much. Tori, Isoka, and all the rest may have puzzles to solve and unexpected solutions to find, but their journey is through a messy, chaotic universe in which order is largely imposed, not uncovered. I like both, but I certainly know which feels more realistic this year.
The ending provides a deus ex machina (well, imperatoris ex machina) to wrap things up in a broadly satisfying way, even if a lot of the moving pieces hadn’t been established before this book. The message was solid, and what ambiguity was left was not unsatisfying. I like the opportunity for more books in this setting, since I think it’s a robust, compelling one—but I do agree that this is a natural end for this particular story. And it’s fitting that, though written in 2020, it officially comes to a close in 2021, hopefully helping to usher in greater peace and stability in our world along with Isoka and Tori’s.
A Siege of Rage and Ruin will be released January 5th, 2021.