Hazrael has been under the sinister influence of the necromancers for seventeen years. Now their diabolical hold on him has been severed and he’s back at the Gold School where the alchemists reside. The past he can’t remember haunts him, carved into his skin in diabolical runes. Before he was taken, Hazrael was a first-level master in the order and a half-human, half-spirit elemental. Despite his immense powers, he was subdued by the necromancers, and he’s taken countless lives without his consent, controlled by the Necromon, the leader of the necromancers.
Back at the Gold School, Hazrael’s surrounded by people who once called him friend, but now treat him like the enemy. Even the elementals are silent around him. The only consolation for Hazrael is the presence of his former best friend and lover, Oberon, who is the headmaster of the Gold School. This time, however, the threat to Hazrael’s healing does not come from the necromancers, but his own guilt and self-loathing. But when war strikes Gusan, the holy city, the time for doubts is at an end.
This story appears to spell the end of the Alchemists and Elementals trilogy, a superb fantasy series I can’t recommend enough. Sweet’s writing is immersive and beautiful, her characters warm and relatable, her descriptions precise, and her imagery vivid. She seems to possess an instinctive understanding of how to breathe life into a fantasy world.
Kiss of Death is mostly about Hazrael’s healing, how he faces the fact he’s been a servant of evil for nearly twenty years and has lost everything he loved. Theodyne, the former thief and earth element alchemist, becomes Hazrael’s healer and confidant. But Hazrael finds it hard to get close to Oberon again, and their relationship is strained to say the least. Each line and moment between them is infused with unspoken emotions and longing, and described hauntingly and lovingly. Most of the book is focused on Hazrael’s slow recovery at the Gold School and the war preparations of the alchemists. But tiny little plot twists happen all the time, you just have to be careful to spot them.
Through his plight, Hazrael becomes familiar to the bone. Oberon, though we get his point of view too, comes through a bit less clearly. This is very much the story of Hazrael’s redemption—and the end of the war against the necromancers. Hazrael’s character, one you can’t help but sympathize and shed a tear for, is key to the entire plot. His inner conflict, to overcome his past but also to know his past evil deeds, is shown extremely well, in vivid and stark details that tear your heart out. Every trek into Hazrael’s inner workings is described in remarkable detail and I couldn’t stop reading if I tried.
The action part of the story takes place in the last quarter, for about a hundred last pages or so. Once again, the band of heroes of all three books in the series must face the terrors of Gusan’s catacombs, horrible violence, torture, and death. In this aspect, this story reminded me of the previous book, Taste of Air. The binding thread was well executed and the attack on Gusan is given to us with excellent imagery and compelling words. Best parts in the series, I have to say.
As for the romance… well, this isn’t strictly speaking a romance. This is a fantasy tale with healing, action, and mortal danger. More than in the previous installments, Kiss of Death has virtually no romance, and only a single, small sex scene toward the end. Hazrael and Oberon might have once been lovers, but that part is not shown, and in the present their relationship is tenuous and filled with self-sacrifice, doubts, and fear. I’d say this is more about renewing their friendship rather than their former roles as lovers. I admit, I wanted more physical and emotional closeness between the characters—but I also acknowledge how poorly those types of scenes would have worked in the context of this tale of woe, so I can’t reprimand the author for the lack of those kinds of moments.
I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this tale is superbly well crafted, with nothing extraneous or redundant marring the whole. I loved every sentence, every character, every plot twist. But the end of the war comes on quite suddenly, and that did surprise me. To be fair, the necromancers have a fatal weakness and Hazrael exploits it in the end. It wasn’t anti-climactic at all, but it just happened so fast, blink and you missed it. Nonetheless, the war comes down to individuals who face both armies and evil individuals, which makes the final scene understandable. The repercussions of the war will undoubtedly last far into the future. Whether Sweet will write more and allow us to see that is unknown at this time.
As far as fantasy stories and series are concerned, this one is right up there with the best. My favorite was the second story, Taste of Air, but as a whole this series is well worth any amount of time you spend on it. I highly recommend Sweet who is an amazing author who understands how words create imaginary worlds before our very eyes, resonating within us as real and lifelike as the world around us.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.