David Anthony Durham – Sacred Band (Book Review)

Sacred Band cover

David Anthony Durham - Sacred Band

David Anthony Durham’s Acacia was wordy and awkwardly paced, but raised unusually nuanced moral questions for a fantasy story. The sequel, The Other Lands, lost sight of the moral topics but made up for it with tighter writing. While Sacred Band doesn’t fully live up to the potential of either, it makes use of both books’ strengths to provide the most satisfying volume of the trilogy.

Picking up immediately where the second novel left off, this could easily have been the latter half of one big book. War is looming, and the Acacian royal siblings are scattered around the world dealing with their own problems. The question isn’t just whether the “good guys” will win, but what the world will look like after they do. Their family has been responsible for too many atrocities for the reader to simply accept their victory as a happy ending, and all the siblings have different visions of how, or if, they should change that legacy.

These ethical questions aren’t always subtle, but they do fit in the story very naturally. Meanwhile, Durham includes a few too many subplots and is drawn to fantasy clichés, but he writes with a fluidity that makes this rise above most earnest high fantasy. Sacred Band’s biggest strength, though, is in drawing on the previous books in the trilogy. Though sometimes messy and inconsistent, they built up a strong emotional core, and this final novel isn’t afraid to cash in on everything that they set up. Almost every plot thread from the series is tied up in a way that feels both satisfying to the reader and well-earned for the character.

Durham has strong ideas and solid writing. I do hope that for his next novel, he sets his sights higher than princes, princesses, and dragons, and keeps the focus on the more original parts of his vision. However, the Acacia trilogy was an enjoyable read wrapped up in a satisfying way, and I don’t want to sound too hard on the current book. Where Sacred Band is flawed, it’s highlighting the marked improvements its author has already made in the course of a few years, and when it’s at its best, it provides some unique thrills for high fantasy.

Grade: B

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