The Pillars of Sand is a fitting ending to the Echoes of Empire fantasy series. It is filled with intense action, revelations of ancient secrets, and the continued development of one of the most interesting and fully developed fantasy worlds on the shelves today. If you are a fantasy aficionado who adores world building, voluminous lore and ancient history, then you will be hooked on Echoes of Empire from the first chapter of book one, and very quickly, Mark T. Barnes will become one of your must read authors.
As for the story in Pillars, it continues to explore the political and social upheaval of the Shrianese Federation, as Corajidin leads his land down a road to recover its ancient greatness at any price. Standing against him are his own daughter Mari, warrior-poet of renown, and Dragon-Eyed Indris. These two are now lovers but have been torn apart by circumstances and are forced to walk different roads – even though those roads are not theirs by choice and might not lead them back together. And as these three people’s story progress, the very future of Shrian and the world itself begin to subtly take shape before a reader’s eyes.
The hero of this tale is, without a doubt, Indris. He is the mysterious sorcerer, whose power is only rivaled by his absolute dedication to not acquiring too much of it. For Indris has learned wisdom during his troubled life, and that wisdom teaches him too much power leads one to become addicted to it, wanting more and more until eventually you are the tyrant that you once abhorred. A fate that Indris realizes he is not immune from. So while he is forced by circumstances to travel down paths to acquire power, Indris fears to embrace it, ever struggling to find the correct balance between what he must have to save his nation and what other people are trying to force him to take in order to fulfill their own selfish and mysterious designs.
Standing directly opposite the decency of Indris Dragon-Eyed is the vile evilness as represented by Corajidin. Throughout the series, Mr. Barnes has showed this powerful ruler slipping into insanity, forging pacts with evil beyond his conception, and doing horrid deeds to fulfill his destiny and bring greatness to his people. However, Corajidin has also become a three dimensional character, waxing sentimental about his love for family one minute before committing his next horrendous act the next. Few villains in fantasy have as many well intentioned reasons for their actions as Corajidin, and fewer still have as well developed humanity as he does. And Mr. Barnes does an excellent job of not just telling his readers this but showing them, as Corajidin casts aside his own honor to save his son, is willing to pay any price to aid his wife, and then looks the other way to help aid his beloved daughter Mari. When coupled with the revelation that Corajidin’s descent into insanity was not an accident, I found myself almost feeling sorry for this villain, wishing that fate had allowed Corajidin to be the decent person that he could have been in a different life.
As for Corajidin’s beloved daughter, Mari, she starts out this book by reaching her full potential as a kick-ass character. Throughout the series, Mari has fallen in love with Indris, tried to juggle both her personal convictions and her devotion to her family, and attempted to find a way to save her father and brother from their ambitions and sever their pacts with evil beings, but in this book, her circumstances have finally forced her to accept the fact that she is a woman on her own. Her family has abandoned her. Indris has been taken from her. She is a woman confined to the camp of her enemies, and only she can save herself. So Mari must forge her own destiny; a destiny which she has determined is to stop her family and its shadowy allies from destroying Shrian, no matter the cost! So while her love for Indris remains and her desire to find him again is still paramount, it is past time that she assumed the mantle of true warrior-poet!
Before I read The Pillars of Sand, I was desperate to discover what happened next in Mr. Barnes intriguing trilogy, and this story did not let me down. It roared out the gate at full speed, delivering twists and turns that I had not expected. At the halfway point, I could hardly put my e-reader down for fear of missing something. Unfortunately, around the halfway point, the story slowed down considerably. The plot continued to progress, but the pace began to crawl somewhat. Thankfully, the mid-book swoon did not continue for long, for soon Indris, Mari, and Corajidin’s stories converged and merged into a satisfactory ending that tied up many of the loose ends in this trilogy and surprised me in many ways. (Okay, some of it was surprising and some of it wasn’t.) However, what this ending did a spectacular job of doing was setting up the next series of books about Indris and Mari. I mean, Mr. Barnes is already working on the sequel, right?
So if you love epic fantasy and have not tried out this series, you need to pick up The Garden of Stones and give Echoes of Empire a try, because this is a series that is only going to get better and better as Mr. Barnes expands upon it.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.