“Aranthur had a moment to savour the odd feeling of another warrior’s absolute faith.”
Every war comes down to the flash of bright steel, even when the air is full of magic . . .
Aranthur and his friends have come together across different continents and realms with one purpose: to strike back against the forces which have torn a hole in the heavens and threaten to rip the world beneath them apart as well.
With time running short, and treason at home, there are battles to be fought on the field, in the magical arena, and in the ever-deadly realm of politics, and they must succeed on every front or everything will fall. Victory will require enemies to trust one another, old foes to fight together, spies to reveal the truth and steadfast allies to betray long-corrupt rulers.
Is Aranthur, a twenty-year-old student, really the master strategist to bring it all together? And can he and his friends overcome aeons of lies when their plans inevitably fall to pieces? Do they even know, for sure, who the enemy is . . . ?
Welcome back dear reader to the last stop in my ride through Miles Cameron’s Masters & Mages. If you missed my ravings over the first two installments of this series you’ll find them in my reviews page. As always this is a spoiler free review as much as possible, with minor ones perhaps for the previous two books.
Overall this series has been rife with full tilt action, character and magic badassery, camaraderie moments to die for, and plenty of soft, humorous, and quiet snippets between duos or trios that warm your chest. Cameron’s world has been one that is truly so rich and evocative, borrowing from a cultural setting that isn’t used often enough in fiction (I am so not biased I promise!). It would be perhaps repetitive to rehash what I loved about the fantastical world building, character work, and wonderfully detailed writing, but all of what I loved before definitely still carried on with book three. That feel of authenticity was still there when dealing with the minutiae of armed combat and tactics, but also the little day to day things that Aranthur would have to take time for even in the middle of crises to work through. The character interactions still felt as genuine and unpretentious as can be, with some truly humorous moments interspersed in between ones of deep introspection and both internal and shared conflict that felt, if not always relatable, at the very least completely understandable and natural. And as I will never get tired of pointing out, the intimate moments between couples still as classy as ever and with a simple tenderness I really enjoyed. The latter was also valid with platonic relationships as well. We don’t give enough credit to tenderness in writing – Cameron does.
Now, for the sake of honesty I have to admit I found myself a little lost at times. Partly because I was originally buddy reading this series and then decided to finish it on my own, and partly because I was testing something out regarding my reading habits, I spread out reading the three books over the summer, with there being an accidental much longer time between books 2 and 3 (days have a pesky habit of running off when you’re not careful huh). In hindsight this was a mistake for me as I now had a bit of a hard time keeping track of the many side characters and their names, as well as with some magic system details (those did come back eventually to be fair). In other words I wouldn’t have said no to a glossary and a map for one.
But this bit is mostly on me, and it helped that I had Greek and Italian to aid me sometimes with some of the terms heh.
However, I’d still recommend reading the series in one fell swoop, especially because, if like me you can be a little scatter brained, you’ll be having moments of meeting characters you haven’t seen in quite a while and feel like the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme – oh hey this person! I remember seeing this name !! What did they do again? Or hey this battle! I remember it happening but not its many details. There’s also a hell of a lot going on at this point in the story and a lot of mentioning of particulars from earlier in the series which Cameron has sprinkled in nicely throughout with a solid amount of foreshadowing and a castle of cards like delicacy. To explain this better I could say that I could see the puzzle coming very well together but some of the smaller and yet important pieces were a little blurry because I’d not had them very present in mind anymore.
(Again this is mostly on me)
Another thing is that Bright Steel is quite fast paced and with so much going on and needing to happen. It wouldn’t do to say it feels rushed, it doesn’t, but I do think that with a world as rich as the one that Cameron created, with the amount of relevant characters he’s written in, and with the total major events that occur, this story could have perhaps benefited from the added breathing room that a fourth book might’ve given it.
I would’ve gladly spent more time with it all even if that meant going a little slower through the many intrigues and mysteries. It would certainly have allowed for some awesome characters to sink in that little bit more that would’ve helped me remember them better, even when reading the installments further apart.
Back to the happy raving, Aranthur is definitely one of my favorite characters of all time, and his wife Inoques has my love just as much. She is quite a show stealer with her sharp wit and no nonsense demeanor, but she also shines in how she deals with her immortality and not being the kind of immortal that’s the “seen it all done it all and now I’m bored” kind, but rather the opposite of “I’m still finding things to love, be surprised by, and enjoy”.
Meanwhile Aranthur is a completely different character to who he was in book one; he’s grown, hardened, gotten stronger and smarter, but also more open to listening to those around him. In fact this is perhaps my favorite thing about his character work and imo Cameron’s touch on this one was truly phenomenal. Why? Because you have a young man suddenly in charge of a whole lot of burdens and secrets, who teeters on the edge of utter cynicism and dour realities darkening his view of so many things, BUT he catches himself and doesn’t let it consume him, and rather allows his friends who have been through it all with him to share the burden – all of this while dealing with some ptsd from the events in the previous two books. Grim realities and decisions abound and he pays his emotional dues with what he’s had to do, but he’s also not given up on the little moments that matter and keep him sane. I could go on for *days* on this.
I guess the short version of all this is that actions have consequences and how you deal with them matters.
Am I reading too much into it ? I don’t think so, but that’s the beauty of subjectivity in book reading, and I found that Miles Cameron has created in this trilogy something amazing that lends itself well to this kind of pondering on social and ethical dynamics.
And hey, if that’s not your thing, there are still lots of cool monsters/demons/ magic creatures, a array of badass gunslinging, sword and/or magic wielding badasses, lots of big and small skirmishes and action sequences, as well as political intrigue and mysteries to unfold, with a sprinkling of various kinds of humor all of which lands delightfully.
Ultimately I was very satisfied with how this story concluded, and how Cameron wrapped it all up; that epilogue was rather heartwarming while also somewhat nostalgic in a way. I also know that I’ll enjoy it all the more on a reread, now that I know better too haha.
I’m extremely eager to continue reading Cameron’s work, his writing is of a kind I connect very well with, and it is very likely you’ll see me reviewing his latest work and first foray into SciFi, Artifact Space, soon!!
If you’ve made it this far dear reader, high five and thank you. Extra brownie points for you !
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.