Death’s Beating Heart by Rob J. Hayes (The War Eternal #5) – Book Review

Eskara Helsene has been many things: an angry teenager, the victim of brainwashing and abuse, queen and villain and an enemy to the gods themselves. In Death’s Beating Heart, she aims for the stars by trying to save the world from Sevorai’s nightmarish hunger, Norvet Meruun. The issues with that are numerous: first among them, the fact that no one is altogether too eager to listen to the Corpse Queen and her daughter, a young woman whose actions brought about an apocalypse. Note my use of ‘an’: this isn’t one of those joyous worlds that only gets the one apocalypse.

How do you trust the monster mothers scare their children with? When she tells you the world’s about to end, you’re more than likely to point at her in accusation, right? After all, wherever Eskara Helsene shows up, death follows. Once you’ve got her reputation, it’s not difficult to blame anything bad happening to Eska:

A family was found murdered in their home, stabbed and slashed, claw marks on the walls. All knew the Corpse Queen had been in the area and it was no great leap to make the connection. Eskara Helsene was seen in the local graveyard, digging up corpses and feasting on them. A plague had come to town, picking off the weak and infirm, and a dark-winged form had passed overhead just a day before…Every shitty situation, every misfortune, every unexplained death, and every ill omen predicted by some useles hedge witch. All were laid at my feet. My taloned feet, apparently.

While Norvet Meruun’s threat frames the other events in Death’s Beating Heart with a sense of urgency, they are by no means of little importance. Come Sins of the Mother‘s epic conclusion, Sirileth caused an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe that killed hundreds of thousands of humans and doomed millions more to death by starvation and environmental fallout; the very world’s atmosphere is poisoned, the sun hidden behind clouds blackened with ash. How’s that to be fixed? I won’t say, but of course some familiar faces pop up.

There’re other wars, too; namely, a violent, decade-long conflict between Eskara’s former fiefdom and its neighbouring nation of Tor. I was a little bummed out by how that wrapped up, but that’s not throwing shade at Hayes; he executes the entire plot brilliantly well. The result is that, when Eska needs a power structure most, to support her attempt to bring the world together, she is completely unmoored. Which means, of course, she’s gonna need to look for help. Since Eskara’s never been good at making friends, though, she can only get said help from an enemy–and it’s a lark.

Eska might not be good at making friends, but that might be because the friend she made along the way is the shadow nightmare creature inside of her. That’s right–the Sserakis reunion happened at the previous book’s conclusion, and seeing these two together, seeing them come to a new arrangement and redefine their relationship more than once–it has to be one of my most favourite elements of the book, and makes for my favourite human-nightmare relations…at least in fiction. Can’t say I score it as highly as my own relationships with my personal nightmares, but what can you do.

What of the other characters who shine through in this novel? There’s The Queen of Ice and Fire, Lesray Alderson, whose frightening power is fully realised in the battle against Norvet Meruun. The conversations between Eskara and Lesray are filled with tension, making for some of the most terrific and tense engagements. The revelations these conversations result in, I cannot describe to you how satisfying they are, how they change your understanding of Eska, of her emotional and psychological make-up. An assembly of other characters return to the series, Joseph, Tamura, and Hardt principal among them. The adopted son of Eska makes his first proper appearance as a grown-up, and he’s got plenty in common with dear ol’ mum, especially where murderous temper’s concerned. One or two characters even gain something resembling a happy ending…but I wouldn’t put my money on all of them making it out if I were you.

The final battle against Norvet Meruun will live in my mind as one of the finest large-scale battles in fantasy. The scale of the enemy alone is daunting:

As the dust settled I watched in horror. The entire canyon wall, leagues of it, was gone. It was all the Beating Heart now. A pulsing, growing, devouring tide of flesh.

How do you even fight something like this? Rob J. Hayes’s answer is quite the inspiration. As is all of Death’s Beating Heart, all The War Eternal. It’s a novel and a series I am fond of, a fondness that will translate to many return trips via audiobook and ebook and hopefully at some point, through the gorgeous hardcovers Rob has published, too.
Still wondering whether you might enjoy the series as a whole? You will, if you like any of the following:

  • Dark fantasy worlds with a real, deep sense of history to them;
  • A protagonist whose character arc goes from strength to strength in the span of five whole books;
  • Memorable supporting characters across a variety of species;
  • An engaging, storied magic system;
  • And so much more!

If you’ve enjoyed my reviews on these wonderful books, I have some news you might find interesting. After a chat I had about the series with Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic a few weeks ago, we managed to rope Rob Hayes into an hour-long spoiler-heavy interview about the series. That first video is already on Mihir’s channel, and the second will very soon be on mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: