Miles Cameron has now written two of my favorite fantasy series published this millennium. Bright Steel is the final book in Cameron’s Masters & Mages trilogy (I previously reviewed Cold Iron and Dark Forge). It absolutely stands with The Traitor Son Cycle.
The two series are excellent but very different. The Traitor Son Cycle draws heavily from Arthurian myth. Masters & Mages is Cameron’s take on the Chosen One trope. Masters & Mages is more accessible at the beginning, although, like The Traitor Son Cycle, this is very much not entry-level fantasy. Gabriel has a strong arc in The Traitor Son Cycle, but it is character (and plot) focused. Aranthur gets a more traditional arc, starting as a callow farm boy and ending the series as one of the most powerful and puissant men in the Empire. Both series have a post-medieval setting that strongly resembles are own, but in The Traitor Son Cycle the Constantinople analogue is about as far east as we get and guns are a very new thing; in Masters & Mages the Constantinople analogue is about as far west as we get and rudimentary guns are established, including personal firearms (making it flintlock fantasy). Both feature monsters, huge battles, intricate worldbuilding, and world-threatening foes.
Book one was an “urban” fantasy of sorts, being set almost entirely in a single large post-medieval city. Book two, on the other hand, follows the progress of the city’s troops at war. Book three moves back to the Cameron’s Constantinople analogue, although we will see the field again. Aranthur et al. have learned much about the Pure after essentially knowing nothing in book two. After being very much reactive in the first two books, our heroes can finally go on the offense.
Book three really shows off the intricacy of Cameron’s worldbuilding. It also allows him to play around with the Chosen One trope and to subtly raise philosophical questions. You might think by book three this stuff would be played out, and with many writers it would. But Cameron’s work remains dense with the stuff.
Masters & Mages is no more entry-level fantasy than The Traitor Son Cycle, but its greater accessibility early on is a major plus. Cameron is a little more self-assured in the genre, and it shows. The shorter series length is another advantage. I really look forward to re-reading both, but I might pick up Masters & Mages first. This is a series that I definitely think would benefit from reading straight through and from a second (or third or . . . ) read. I have very little in the way of criticism, although Aranthur’s success rate might be a bit too high here. The book could have used another solid setback.
5 of 5 Stars.