Deathcaster, the final book in Cinda Williams Chima’s Shattered Realms series, is a satisfying, well-choreographed dance that brings everything together. I’ve never been a chess player (seriously, I suck at checkers), but I suspect Chima plays it in her sleep. Where the Heir Chronicles each centered on one protagonist (although the POV did occasionally shift to other characters to share information and further the plot), and the entire Seven Realms series mostly centered on Raisa and Han (again shifting to a few other POVs, but minimally), the Shattered Realms series had a much larger cast of protagonists.
Structurally, it makes sense: Flamecaster focused mainly on Jenna Bandelow and Adrian sul’Han (Ash); Shadowcaster introduced Breon d’Tarvos, while also delving into the stories of Alyssa Gray and Hal Matelon; and Stormcaster goes back in time to fill in the pieces focusing on Evan Strangward and Destin Karn. So then we get to Deathcaster. We figure out from previous books who the Deathcaster must be, and yet we learn her story through the points of view of the many characters we’ve already met (which, I would be remiss if I didn’t add Lila Byrne/Barrowhill to the list, given her many contributions). Not presenting the POV of the title character is an interesting and bold narrative choice, and only you can decide if you think it works for you. Personally, I thought it prevented her from being quite as formidable a foe as she had the potential to be, although her actions do stand for themselves. And it’s not like King Gerard was perceived as any less evil in Flamecaster because we never saw things from his point of view.
That said, we know going in that this book is the conclusion of the series, and all we can do is follow along and marvel as Chima carefully braids the various threads together, ties up each and every loose end, and weaves together a tight and enjoyable narrative replete with intrigue, twists and turns, drama, and humor.
One element of this series that I find intriguingly different is Chima’s handling of time. There are two main timelines occurring–the events from the beginning of book 1 (T0) and four years later (T4). And all of the characters, all of whom come of age during this interval, are shaped by these events. Psychologically speaking, it makes sense not to gloss over this critical phase of “child development” (and I put this in quotes because, as becomes clear throughout these novels, children who are raised during wartime are forced into adulthood much earlier than during peacetime). And so, the books each start at T0, take their time, and revisit known events (each time from a different point of view, making the scene that much richer and more meaningful) before moving forward through to T4.
Deathcaster, however, is the exception. It starts right where Stormcaster left off (T5) and takes its time navigating the complex plot (and vast geography of the Seven Realms). Friendships are made, alliances forged, questions answered, betrayals revealed. Sorry that I’m not delving more deeply into the details of the plot but I really, really don’t want to give anything away. I adore the new characters that are introduced, vividly imagined the new geographies introduced, and groaned at the end of each chapter that ended with a cliff-hanger before jumping to another point of view. I admittedly rushed through my first read-through, having to know what happened, and now will revel re-reading it slowly to relish my trip through the seven realms. Because, of course, this book is best enjoyed starting with book one and read straight through. It may be better to clear your social calendar, just to be safe, because while you’re not reading the book, you’ll be thinking about the book, and perhaps even boring others with the depths to which you’ll discuss the book. And that may just cast death upon your social life. Perhaps that’s where this name truly comes from…