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SPFBO 9 Official Review

The Last Ranger
by J.D.L. Rosell


Betrayed. Hunted. Left for dead. But not even death itself can keep the last ranger from vengeance.

Leiyn “Firebrand” is no stranger to a fight. A brash ranger of the Titan Wilds, she takes up her bow to ward against the colossal spirit creatures known as titans, ever a threat to the colonies she has sworn to protect.

But no amount of skill can guard against treachery.

When tragedy strikes the rangers’ lodge, Leiyn vows to avenge the fallen. But if she is to succeed, she must embrace a power within her she has long denied.

Power to move mountains and rivers.

Power over life and death.

She did not choose this path, but Leiyn knows her duty. For if she fails, the legacy of the rangers dies with her—and all the Titan Wilds will fall into shadow.

John Mauro:

 “She ground her hand against her bow’s grip, wishing it were the skinny man’s neck instead of wood and leather.”

The Last Ranger, the SPFBO9 finalist by J.D.L. Rosell, is a single point-of-view revenge fantasy featuring Leiyn, a ranger from a colonialist society who protects the wilderness with her bow and unflinching determination.

The Last Ranger is told on multiple timelines, and Leiyn is haunted by horrific events from both her past and present:

“Memories assaulted her. Leiyn bolted upright and looked wildly around. She had a strong stomach, but hers bucked at the sight of what surrounded her. Corpses lay in heaps across the forest floor.”

The worldbuilding is a highlight of the novel, especially with its beautiful wildland fantasy setting. However, as much as I enjoyed reading J.D.L. Rosell’s descriptions of the Titan Wilds, I struggled to make any connection with Leiyn as the lead protagonist.

Leiyn is a frustrating character: she is hotheaded, impulsive, and horribly racist against the Gasts, the indigenous population of the colonized lands. The roots of her racism began early in life:

“‘Every child should see a man’s life end,’ her father told her as they walked to the town square to see the Gasts hang.”

Leiyn also abhors magic and keeps her own magical abilities hidden. She is especially biased against the magic-wielding shamans, who also serve as religious leaders of the Gasts:

“Of all Gasts, she had always most despised shamans.”

Unfortunately, I failed to develop any emotional connection with Leiyn as a character until about 70% into the novel. Since hers is the only perspective in The Last Ranger, this compromised my enjoyment of the story as a whole. The plot itself also follows a fairly standard vengeance arc, without offering any major surprises. 

Despite its elegant prose and worldbuilding, The Last Ranger suffers from an unlikeable, unrelatable lead protagonist who limits the view of this wild and wonderful world. Although I couldn’t sympathize with her as a character, other readers who can overcome this issue may find more to enjoy.

Whitney Reinhart:

I agree with John on this one. Leiyn, the protagonist, should have been fleshed out more and doesn’t grow much over the course of the story. It can be problematic for readers when the worldbuilding and supporting cast far outshine the lead. This is certainly the case here. The other rangers, the Gasts and their shamans, the magical creatures, the power structures and rules are all more interesting. This is because the other characters grow and the magical rules are easy to understand and static. I was enchanted by the clan of dryvans and the awakening titans. Would’ve happily read an entire expository appendix on just those elements! Add to that my personal frustration with Leiyn’s refusal to learn anything about her own magic and my bitterness about the consequences of her untrained misuse of it, and I wanted to dip out on her. It was the rest of the story that kept me engaged. So, I can completely understand where John’s coming from when he says a reader will have to overcome their dislike of Leiyn to truly enjoy this book. That’s probably why I scored The Last Ranger higher than he did; because everything other than Leiyn is just so well done. 

Shaggy Shepherd: 

The Last Ranger by J.D.L. Rosell took me a little bit off guard. I haven’t really been in the mood for epic fantasy for a while so I was worried about having to read it for SPFBO. Though it did take a couple of chapters to really draw me in, I ended up enjoying it a lot by the time I finished it.

Between the smooth prose and the short chapters, it felt like a relatively quick read despite there not being as much excitement as I’m used to from this subgenre. There was a good bit of traveling, which can get boring quickly sometimes, but it was broken up regularly by flashbacks that I loved and world building that I really enjoyed. The awe I felt at the details about this world almost reminded me of the comfort of a cozy read.

While I’m usually a big fan of multi-POV books, I really enjoyed only having one narrator to focus on here. I was able to really get into her head, which was both a pro and a con. I enjoyed seeing the character development but at the same time didn’t actually like the character very much for most of the book because I struggle to connect with hateful MCs. There were some really interesting supporting characters though.

I did struggle a little bit to keep up with the politics here and there, though that straightened out by the end of it. I also wish we could’ve seen a bit more of the magic system, though what we did get was really interesting and added to the awe that I felt about the world. I’m excited to learn more about it in the rest of the series.

So overall, while there were some things that didn’t quite work for me, I had an unexpectedly good time in the end. This was my first book by J.D.L. Rosell and I’m excited to try more.

Team Score: John 4, Whitney 7.5, Shaggy 7.5, Rebecca 7 Final Score: 6.5

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