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The tl;dr: A Cask-Aged Blade is a thematic triumph as Benjamin Aeveryn takes his characters and puts them through the wringer one final time. Aeveryn leans hard into the Arthurian elements of his series, including a literal dragon, which has the unfortunate consequence of pushing some of the other cool aspects of this series aside. The rainwights, the initial hook for the series, play a very small role here, which I cannot lie was a big dissapointment for me. However, if you come into A Cask-Aged Blade willing to meet the book where it is rather than what you expect it to be, it is a suprising, emotional, and page-turning grand finale.

Cover of A Cask-Aged Blade

My full review:

A Cask-Aged Blade is a prime example of thinking about what a book is rather than what you wanted it to be. I cannot lie that while I was initially reading this final book that I was a tad disappointed in the direction that Aeveryn chose to go in, but once I accepted what he was going for, I was hooked. The Cask-Aged Blade is a powerful conclusion to this post-apocalyptic fantasy genre mash-up, even as it tends to focus on certain world-building and plot elements while leaving others in the dust.

My initial love for the Rainfallen series came from its intriguing premise – a post-apocalyptic England with demons/wights to come out when it is raining. Salt in the Wound (the first book in the series) gripped me with its thrilling and cinematic action scenes, morally grey characters, and Arthurian myth-making. So, I was disappointed when the rainwights play a very small (to the point of being non-existent) role in the finale here. The drama of A Cask-Aged Blade is grounded, human, and political. The rainwights are what caused the sociopolitical collapse of global society, but Aeveryn takes that as a worldbuilding fact rather than fully integrating them into this final book.

This contributes to what ultimately took this from a five star book to a four star finale – the focus in this last book is a bit too narrow. Throughout the first two books Aeveryn threw a lot of balls in the air – the wights, the Arthurian mythos, various characters, a noir detective from urban London, political strife, magical powers, and more. In this last book Aeveryn struggles a bit to bring those all together, and so many of these elements are tossed onto the backburner. As I mentioned the wights are nearly absent, and many of the characters don’t really have that much to do. Nothing illustrates my latter point than Kade, who first appeared in the spinoff novella (and SFINCS finalist!!) Blackcap, and merged with the main plot arc in the second book. Here is just kind of around since it would be weird to just excise him completely, but at the same time he plays no significant role in the plot or other character arcs.

But at some point I needed to let all of that go and recognize that what Aeveryn was doing here was a bit different and unexpected. The post-apocalyptic world was never the focus of the Rainfallen books, but was the foundation to tell a more personal and powerful story of loss, disenfranchisement, revenge, and redemption.

In this regard, A Cask-Aged Blade fully returns to being Galahad’s story after the series became a bit more ensemble-based in the second book. Galahad has gone through quite the journey over this trilogy – from a determined man with a noble goal to essentially a villain to a more level-headed hero by the end of the second book. A Cask-Aged Blade sees Galahad in a bit of a backslide, as his worst tendencies to “be the hero” rears their ugly heads as Galahad decides to get revenge for his family and town by orchestrating a political coup. This was a fantastic use of character development because humans are messy, and our lives don’t make narrative sense. We don’t grow in a linear way. When Galahad was beaten down and low, he matured and became more level-headed, but now that he has his new-found magical abilities, the power makes him reckless again. I loved that Aeveryn allowed Galahad to have this uneven growth without it ever feeling like he was sacrificing Galahad’s character for the sake of the plot.

Galahad’s journey also makes sense as Aeveryn very much rolls into the Arthurian influences of this story and his characters. This is both for the actual plot itself – including the characters having to slay a literal dragon – and also the characters coming to term with these heroic personas they adopted as children. Aeveryn uses his post-apocalyptic setting to examine how we all perform as characters in our everyday lives, often because we are afraid of being who we really are. The thematic work in A Cask-Aged Blade is the highlight as the book, even as the plot abandons a lot of what drew me into this series in the first place.

In sum, A Cask-Aged Blade is a worthy finale to the Rainfallen series as long as you moderate your expectations for what the book is vs. what you may be expecting.

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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