The Shattered Sun is a hard book to pin down. The copy describes it as an “epic sword-and-sorcery . . . fantasy.” It is, technically, an epic fantasy. The trilogy concerns potentially world-ending matters. The third book, after all, opens with the sun extinguished by the revived Twins. But the story still manages to feel small for an epic fantasy, focusing on a handful of characters and taking place in limited locations. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say it is sword and sorcery. I think the term they should be looking for is “grimdark.” But the Bound Gods books don’t necessarily satisfy the grimdark penchant for gore. But they are dark and handle moral ambiguity in a much more thoughtful way than the average grimdark.
More to the point, the Bound Gods books aren’t plot-centric enough to be sword and sorcery. The strength of the series has always been Dunne’s writing and her characterization. Long lulls between the action is neither necessary to nor sufficient for characterization, but Dunne uses them inordinately well for it. Ultimately, though, a fantasy trilogy comes down to plot, and the Bound Gods trilogy is marred by a weak finish.
How many series feature their strongest climax not in the final book, or even in the first book, but instead in the second book?
The end of the second book sets up the plot of the third. The Fallen successfully revived the demigod Twins, and the Twins immediately extinguished the sun. But doing so left them weakened, and the sun isn’t exactly extinguished. An eternal night has begun, but the air remains warm and crops even grow. There is a window of opportunity to defeat the Twins before they regain their full power.
The Shattered Sun benefits from bringing (almost) all of the characters from the first two books together. I particularly missed Scal in the second book, and he plays more of a prominent role here, now wielding the powers that will get him dubbed “Nightbreaker.” But he is almost more of a plot device than a character.
I mentioned above that the Bound Gods books handle moral ambiguity more thoughtfully than the average grimdark. Grimdark tends to just paint the protagonist as also awful, which is both lazy and unsatisfying. Dunne does something more interesting. Doing things for the right reasons can lead to doing great wrong, as Kieron learns (although he will get his chance at redemption). Self-interest can lead to doing the right thing, as we see with Joros.
The ending, though, mars the book, and the entire series really. It was a bit too cheap, not well setup, and it left me with one big, looming question (and not in a good way).
3.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Harper Voyager sent me a review copy of The Shattered Sun.