The best part about reading a series, is when you get to come back to your favourite world, to the characters you've got to know and - in most cases - like. It also means you don't have to make an extra effort to get used to the writing style of the author, or learn the characters' names. It's a lazy book reader's dream. Seriously, finding myself back in the fictional Universe that I enjoy always has me like,
Before I get on with the review, I should list all the books in the series in the correct order, so we all now what the hell I'm talking about.
The Golden Cage (#0.5)
The Shadow Soul (#1)
The Silver Key (#1.5)
The Spirit Heir (#2)
The Bronze Knight (#2.5)
The Pheonix Born (#3)
The Iron Rider (#3.5)
Like I wrote in the first review, my main issue with this series is that these separate novels and novellas don't quite work as standalone books. Nevertheless, The Spirit Heir had the most satisfying ending of the first four books, that also set up a lot of tensions for the last three. So when I wrote the first part of the review, I had three books left to read.
The Bronze Knight, I thought, was very good, and it kept on building up the tensions of The Spirit Heir. However, the last two books were a real disappointment. The Pheonix Born is where everything that the series has been building up to, all the tensions, all the secrets, finally burst. This is where all the cards are put on the table; where the feces hit the proverbial fan. And The Iron Rider is, of course, the conclusion. That's where the author ties all of the plots together, and gets rid of those lose ends. Just like The Golden Cage took place in Ourthuro, with Leena as the main hero, this last book brings the story back to where it all began, with Leena leading the charge. The circle is now complete (I'm running out of clichés here).
The characters are still great, and it's rewarding to see them grow and to see their relationships grow and get more complicated, as the world around them gets more complicated. Things get more serious between Rhen and Jinji, and we're introduced to a new character who makes their relationship more strained, and basically threatens to tear them apart. For spoiler reasons, I can't say who this person is, but I can assure you this story does not suddenly involve a tired love triangle. Thankfully, It's a lot more complicated than that. And the amount of pressure that Jinji is dealing with as the conflict becomes more urgent is unbelievable. She is faced with choices that are impossible to make, and not even her magic - which has grown stronger since we last saw her - can help her.
The stakes in the last three books are a lot higher. The brewing conflict between the Whylkin and the Ourthuri escalates. And all the while the leaders of the two lands are figuring out the best way to defeat each other, Jinji and Rhen are trying to bring to their attention a threat that's bigger than any human war. A threat against all of the human race, from a terrible enemy that nobody knows how to defeat.
At the same time, Princess Leenaka is continuing with her own plan to destroy her father and put an end to his bloody reign and bring peace to her beloved homeland. But to do so she will need the help of Jinji and Rhen.
With so many subplots and so many conflicts that are developing at the same time, it would be easy for an author to lose track of some of them, and to risk the plot becoming convoluted and unbalanced. But not for Davis. Throughout the whole series, she does an excellent job balancing all the arcs, and giving all the subplots their fair share of time and attention. And even though I found the ending a little disappointing for reasons I will discuss later, it is still very balanced and there are no lose threads or gaping plot holes.
Like I said, the ending could be stronger. But it's not just the ending, it was the last two books that, to be honest, aren't as good as the other five. Certain arcs and subplots are a little too dragged out. Like the conflict between Jinji, Rhen and that other character. It just goes on for too long, overstaying its welcome. It's in the middle of this conflict that Rhen does something that you can call despicable. I understand his motivations, but while I was reading the book I sincerely hoped that his actions would come back to bite him in his perfect ass.
On the other hand, his questionable actions are a testimony to his growth as a character. In my first review, I mentioned that he was too perfect to be real. Well, that's certainly not the case anymore.
I also wrote that Leena's father, King Razzaq was just evil for the sake of being evil, and I expressed my hope that his wickedness and cruelty would be explained and explored later in the series. Don't hold your breath. There's nothing to explore here. He's just an evil son of a bitch.
Also, very late in the story - in the sixth book, to be more precise - we're introduced to two new characters, who are very important to the plot. Unfortunately, since their introduction occurs so late in the story, you can't bring yourself to care about them. Here you've been following Rhen, Jinji and Leena on their adventures, and you really get to know them, and you feel connected to them. These two characters arrive out of the blue. Just because they need to be there for the sake of the plot.
As for the ending, it's just too predictable. Too bland. You get to watch this story build up and then blow up in your face only to come to this unsatisfying and rather disappointing conclusion.
All things considered, A Dance of Dragons is a very entertaining and beautifully written series and I really recommend it to any fan of fantasy and/or romance.
My individual rating
The Golden Cage: 4 stars
The Shadow Soul : 4 stars
The Silver Key : 4 stars
The Spirit Heir : 4 stars
The Bronze Knight : 4 stars
The Pheonix Born : 3 stars
The Iron Rider : 3 stars
My average rating: 3,7 stars. Let's round it up to 4 stars.