Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Review: "The Core" by Peter V. Brett

Coming off major disappointment with my last series wrap-up book, I jumped right into another with Peter V. Brett’s “The Core” ($8.99, Del Rey).

Sharak Ka has arrived on a world in utter chaos. Thanks to their captured Alagai Ka, the demon mind prince, Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir have discovered that the human race’s prospects in the final battle against the corelings are even more grim than they thought. It will take bold action to avoid the utter destruction of humanity, and they have to roll the dice, with the fate of the world in the balance.

As they prepare for their journey to the Core to face whatever horrors await, much work still has to be done to unite the people on the surface of the world against a much larger threat. That work largely falls to Inevera, who rules the Krasians in all but title with Jardir missing, and Leesha Paper, now the countess of the Hollow. Somehow, they have to repair fractured relationships and focus people on a new threat – a massive demon army no longer working as individuals, but as a well-oiled machine guided by the strategy of the minds.

"The Core” brings the series to a mostly satisfying close for me, but it’s not without its issues. In the early going, the book seems to have a strange, perhaps unhealthy, fixation on genitalia – the uses, mutations and mutilation thereof – so much so, that I was beginning to wonder if Brett had dropped down some sort of weird rabbit hole. I’m not sure that Hasik’s obsession with castrating both his allies and his victims, for example, really had any major bearing on the overall story beyond shock value and padding the page count. And that’s the major weakness of this book. There are a lot of things that happen that don’t make an impact on the ultimate resolution of the conflict or series.

There are portents and proclamations made that just don’t really add up in the end. Inevera keeps telling us that the khaffit Abban has a role to play in Sharak Ka, and there’s a whole story arc about rescuing him from Hasik, but ultimately, the night war could have gone just fine without him. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue on the children of the story – the child of Leesha and Jardir, the children of Rojer Inn, the child that Renna Bales carries with her to the Core – but for all of the time spent on them, none of them really affect the story either. Granted, Brett could have plans for all of them in the future, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

The biggest problem, though, is that the resolution of the conflict below the surface seems to diminish all of the action that has taken place on the surface. It’s difficult to explain without giving away too much, but once the story is over, I wonder why we spent so much time with sieges and conspiracies and battles above when all that really mattered was what Jardir, Arlen and Renna did below.

With that storyline, I was fairly pleased. As he has to date in this series, Brett delivers a stunning, action-packed bit of storytelling that throws a curve ball or two along the way. I particularly liked the development of the frenemies Jardir and Arlen and how, at the end of it all, their roles had almost reversed. He also did a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and pulling the rug out from under the protagonists just when you thought they had it figured out.

While I do think some things could have been handled a little better, overall I’m not unhappy with the way this series ended. I wish the book had been a little more focused and cohesive, but even much of the surface story was entertaining in its own right until we found out it really didn’t matter all that much. 

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