Sins of the Mother by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

Series: The War Eternal by Rob J. Hayes (#4)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Disclaimer: Received a copy of this a little before release for review.

What a ride! The first three books of Rob J. Hayes’s War Eternal series make for some of my favourite dark fantasy reads. Protagonist Eskara Helsene was many things in those books: hungry for revenge, ambitious beyond measure, furious at a world that made a monster of her at the earliest possible age, and–above all of these things–a Sourcerer of frightening power.

Twenty years after From Cold Ashes Risen, Eska has grown old. The first chapter finds her where I’d have least expected her–performing the role of hedge witch to some no-name village in the middle of nowhere, curing warts, scaring children, and scratching her arse. Going by the name of a lover dead by her own hand, Eska is living every retiree’s dream–until, that is, a nightmare appears close to her. Not long after, so does an old friend; what follows is a chase up and down the corners of Hayes’s wonderful world of Ovaeries, all in search for an errant daughter as our heroine must come to grips with…the sins of the mother. Roll credits.

A big draw to this series has always been the retrospective tone of its narrative. We are told these stories from the point of view of an older Eska, one that is much more experienced yet remains as disruptive, as irreverent, as her younger self. There is much this older Eska has hinted at, much she has been on the cusp of revealing, only to pull away; and a lot of it has had to do with her children. This is where so many of these plot threads finally come to fruition–or begin to, at the very least.

Sins of the Mother does a brilliant job of bringing home so many passing references Eska made across the pages of the previous three books, while introducing whole new rules to the world and expanding the magic system in admirable ways.

It’s a different world, a different cast of characters–Hardt and Tamura are only mentioned in passing, in memory, in daydream. In their place a new cast of characters begins to form, dominated by the spawn of our very own Corpse Queen. Psst, that’s Eska for you lot who haven’t read the books yet. Shoo, go read em.

The greatest change is the one inside of Eska. Those twenty years have taught her wisdom, have schooled her in lessons as bitter as any she learned in the first three books. There is weakness, also–with premature old age has come infirmity, a frailty that belies the unquenchable willpower of this awesome protagonist. Rob Hayes brings out a facet of this character that has been tempered by age, experience, and a fresh coat of new failures; yet I cannot stress this enough – Eska remains Eska.

Hayes weaves deep bonds between her and all her children, both in the character’s past and in her present. I was partial to Sirileth, Eska’s youngest, a quiet, analytical girl whose love for riddles and their answers, becomes one of the driving forces behind this novel. Eskara only meets her daughter later in the novel–but when the meeting happens, it marks one of the most cataclysmic reunions ever, wilder than any I could have imagined. And I am by no means lacking in imagination. I might have seen a twist or two coming where Sirileth is concerned, but that made them none the less rewarding to read.

Sirileth is far from the only supporting character of interest–though I do believe she would make an excellent protagonist in a follow-up series, that’s neither here nor there. One supporting character from the previous books plays a central role here–Imiko. Imiko, who is given greater depth than ever before, who, as it turns out, has more in common with Eskara than almost anyone else across the War Eternal books. She is hardly the only one who comes into Eskara’s life suddenly and without warning. There’s also a face Eska never thought she’d lay eyes on again, one that is…well, if you’ve paid attention, you’d know it would happen eventually, but if you haven’t, I couldn’t possibly spoil the fun.

What about locations? The floating city of the godlike Rend is revisited, and so are several other fantastic places within Ovaeries. Cities only shown in flashbacks or mentioned in passing in previous books are the scenes of lavish parties or dastardly betrayals. And in an oasis in the middle of a barren desert, an eye watches on, its gaze always quick to fix on Eskara.

Sins of the Mother borrows its structure from Along the Razor’s Edge in that chapters either open with extended sojourns into the past or are entirely dominated by them; this worked well to anchor Eska as a young girl in a brutal world before and it works much better now, filling the gaps between Eska’s last adventure and her present circumstances.

I cannot press this last point enough, but the conclusion of this book is the purest, most unadulterated hit of adrenaline I have received from a Rob J. Hayes book yet — and that is saying something. If you’ve paid any attention, you should have an inkling of what to expect, and when it comes, reader…I can practically hear the endorphines rushing back into my brain just at the memory of it!

Sins of the Mother was a triumphant return to the world of Ovaeries. It served not only as a compelling story on its own merits but made for excellent build-up to what is one of the finest conclusions of a fantasy series I’ve read, Death’s Beating Heart. For my thoughts on that…tune in soon.

It’s not just me reviewing this book, however…it’s also The Dark Lord (check his previous Fantasy Yelp Review here)!

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