Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 10 hours, 53 minutes
Elysium is the conclusion of the main story arc in the Fire & Brimstone Scroll series and is not a standalone. Therefore, this review contains spoilers for earlier in the series.
While escaping Purgatory and being with his angels again were the only thoughts keeping Riley alive during his captivity, after spending two months being tortured, experimented on, abused, and honed by Lucifer to kill angels and revel in his darker impulses, Riley is no longer the sweet, innocent boy he used to be and months later is still struggling with his anger. His angels mostly treat him with kid gloves (with Gideon being the only one willing to call him on his behavior) and the committed bond he accidentally created with Jai is fraying. Not safe on Earth, the fractured family is building a home in Utopia and trying to create a safe place for Riley to heal and deal with his trauma.
Unfortunately, escaping Lucifer doesn’t stop Lucifer’s hold on Riley or make Utopia safe, as the mission into Purgatory unearthed Lucifer’s obsession with creating a hybrid army to conquer all realms and having his unwilling angelic incubators and the children they carry taken from him will not go unanswered. With the Archangel Council being thrown into chaos after the exposure of Malachi’s betrayal and Riley’s unique powers as a hybrid, the archangels are even more desperate to keep Riley as an ally and weapon, and the depth of Riley’s hatred of Lucifer makes him more than willing to be the means to take him out, despite his angels’ desire to protect him. However, for Riley, the safety of his angels comes first and foremost and when the battle finally arrives, Riley’s choices may cost him everything.
Elysium is a solid conclusion to the series, and frankly, a respite from the almost trauma-porn tone the series had fallen into, for although Riley has a lot to deal with and work through, it’s mostly done off-page in therapy and him lashing out/hurting his partners is typically mentioned rather than shown. Having sat with my review for a while after finishing the book, I still can’t tell if I truly liked the shift in tone/style of the narrative or if I was just relieved to not be drenched in the aftermath of more trauma. That being said, there is still a lot of much needed on-page emotional development and closure for the quad to be enjoyed. Riley’s imprisonment has left him rightfully furious, traumatized, and off-balance. On the one hand, having his psyche and angelic and fallen halves fully connected gives him complete access to his powers and makes him more mentally stable in some respects; on the other, he’s angrier, more prone to violence and mercurial, and struggles with controlling the bloodthirsty, cruel parts of himself and reconciling how many beings he killed and his enjoyment of it.
While Elysium takes place during an extremely volatile time for Riley and Utopia, there isn’t a lot going on; the majority of the story is Riley cementing his individual connections and relationship dynamics with his angels and navigating the realities of their polycule. Riley’s experiences have given him more maturity, so he is much better at communicating, pushing through his discomfort/embarrassment/hurt to talk to his angels and work through issues, as well as standing up for himself and his need for equal partnership (especially with Gideon). Interspersed amongst the family issues are a few meetings with the new Archangel Council and training sessions with the soldiers in Riley’s unit, but Lucifer almost feels like a nonentity at times as his specter and war is mostly a background detail until the final battle pops off in the third act. There is abut there is so little time spent with them I didn’t remember who that character was nor feel any impact from their actions.
While, this quieter, less physically and emotionally demanding tone works in some ways, there is a kind of “rinse and repeat” feel to the story, as important events get mentioned in passing and only highlights of what Riley is going through (usually involving sex or navigating sexual issues) are explored. There are also some things said that aren’t actually developed and/or contradict the narrative. For example, Uriel mentions how Riley has changed Utopian structure and society for the better, but there is no indication of when or how he does this other than making a passing remark to Gideon about how unfair it is angels can’t choose their own path—the brilliant deduction at the core of the first war. There’s also a scene where Riley is told he’s not some kind of Chosen One…except for how he is. Moreover, the ending of this almost 11hr audio book and 6 book series feels rushed given all that had gone on in the previous book, specifically, and the more measured (and at times glacial) narrative progression the series had until the latter third. At the end of the journey, I was simultaneously left with the feeling that the series could have been at least one book shorter, but was also too short as it left quite a bit on the table; even the epilogue just glosses over certain threads and issues. However, I think those looking forward to the emphasis on the romantic and relationship progression among the quad will enjoy the more tell not show nature of the emotionally heavy and more action-oriented elements.
As he’s done since the first book, Kirt Graves delivers a lovely, moving performance and ends the series on a high note. While a few of his character voices are a bit off here and there, Graves does a lot of emotional heavy lifting, especially in the moments that get the summary treatment. He conveys Riley’s underlying anger, distrust, ambivalence, and other feelings to each round of therapy or training or fighting in a way that makes moments that could come across as monotonous while reading feel lived in and distinct. It’s almost enough to distract from the ending’s dubious. I definitely know I enjoyed certain facets of the series more because of Graves’s narration, and would recommend those who’ve gone on this journey finish with the audio book version of Elysium.