Guest Review by Sammy
Amazon Link: Last of the Lesser Kings
Author: T.L.K. Arkenberg
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Rating: 3 stars
Last of the Lesser Kings is a fantasy novel that spans more than a decade and contains several interweaving story lines. The main thread, however, focuses on a magician of sorts, one of the race of Ailrun whose name is Neathander. Neathander has left his home with his lover Ashariel, a mercenary. Ash, as Neathander calls him, has decided to throw his lot in with the king who is the enemy of his people.
When the story opens, Ash has already been killed in battle and Neathander is left alone, hunting for scraps of clothing and armor to barter with in order to survive. Because he chose to follow Ash into the enemy’s camp, he is no longer able to return home and follows along after the army, an outcast. As he stumbles among the dead, he comes across Janir who is dazed but unharmed. Neathander draws his sword, ready to slay the young man but something, some emotion, stays his hand. This decision is one he will live to regret.
Twelve years pass and Janir has become the High King. He is ruthless, bloodthirsty, and driven. Over the course of time, Neathander has also lost his humanity of sorts, and become the killing machine of the King. You see the Ailrun are able to control the earth’s forces and animal life as well. Neathander has destroyed whole armies with his killing magic, all in the service of a King whom he loves but who returns his love with affectionate contempt, reminding Neathander always that he is “woman-souled” and, as such, contemptible. So why does Neathander stay?
Unfortunately, this span of time is never fully explored, never fully developed, and so we get only a cursory answer to that question and it is much later in the novel. Here is where the novel began to fall apart for me personally. Roughly this first third of the book was long, underdeveloped and, at times, tedious to the point of frustration. There was much time spent on descriptive passages that did nothing to move the plot along. Also, while Neathander’s character began to take shape, none of the others seemed to develop and grow. We were not able to see Janir develop into the bloodthirsty, cruel man he became, he simply was not one moment and was the next.
This would be a common occurrence throughout the novel. Neathander was well scripted, developed, changing, growing but none of the other characters around him were given the same treatment. During the second part of this novel, Neathander leaves Janir, simply walks away without a backward glance. He eventually ends up in the realm of the last standing “lesser king,” Aorin of Rivensted. Here is a man who is the complete opposite of Janir. Where Janir is dark, evil, grasping at power, Aorin is calm, peaceful, loving and powerful because of just those traits. Neathander falls in love again.
This time, rather than employ his magic for darkness, he does so to save the King’s two children as they are given into his care and told to flee while Aorin stays to meet Janir, who is set on capturing this last key kingdom. This time Janir is aided by his Fae mother, Indragaen, the last of the dragon slayers, an icy, unfeeling woman whose lust to see her son Janir be the last remaining King overshadows all else in her life.
Together, Janir and Indragaen destroy Rivensid and Aorin escapes with a few faithful followers to meet up with Neathander and his children. Once again the author had the opportunity to lead us deep into the hearts of these two kings, to develop their back-story and help us understand what made each of them tick. Unfortunately, once again that moment was lost, focusing instead on Neathander and his insecurities, his fears, and his growing love for Aorin who does not return his affections, but rather views him as someone to take care of and to keep leashed lest Neathander’s penchant for killing magic rise to the fore again.
It was at this point, where I began to feel that the editing process for this novel suffered greatly. This novel was a huge sprawling story with many threads, most underdeveloped that wove in and out, leaving this reader more frustrated than enlightened. Because the characters were never fully drawn, it was hard to feel loyalty toward them, compassion for them, and at times, even interest in them.
However, the second half of this second part and the third section was where the story became more understandable, the tension began to build and Neathander grew stronger, less doubting of himself and more convincing as a hero. Without giving the end of this story away, there is a happy ever after. Aorin does come to love Neathander and order is restored to the kingdom, after a fashion.
I believe there is in the heart of this novel a good story, one worth reading. But the immense sprawl of the tale, the lack of in depth characterization, and the penchant that Arkenberg has for allowing her main story to be so weighed down in minor details that do not further the plot made this a difficult novel to read.