optimal play: Hello Lee,
I've finished "The Last Banquet" and found this fourth instalment to be a most enjoyable read, just as I did the first three! Having now read the first four books, it seems that the first book is self-contained, whereas books two to four make up a three-part series. You continue to come up with fascinating new characters and the further development of your existing characters from the previous books is ingenious.
The obsession of Lord Reesh with the past Empire is an intriguing sub-theme throughout the series.
'“But to be free, we must have power. Power to feed ourselves, regardless of the vagaries of rain and drought and frost. Power to go where we wish to go, when we please, regardless of how far away the destination, regardless of the weather. Power to channel human labor, and direct it. The men of the Empire had such power. So must we.”'
I wonder to what extent the old Empire, and it's demise, is a commentary on our own society?
Orth is an interesting counter-point.
"Folly, Orth thought. You collect bits of rubbish from the ruins of the Empire and treat it like fine jewels, and you delude yourself. If the men of that age were so great, why is there nothing left of their greatness but useless pieces of trash? Why did they perish? You say they flew through the air, and sailed the seas, and spoke to one another over great distances as if they sat across a table from each other—but did any of that save them? Where are they now, First Prester? Why should we try to emulate a civilization that has utterly died out?"
Orth develops into a compelling character. He is pathetic and cowardly, yet retains a residue of conscience, which only emerges when driven by his fear of "the dark angel" with the slaughter weapon. His reaction to the human sacrifice, in contrast to the cynicism of Lord Reesh, is particularly stark.
Your treatment of the various animals thoughout the series is particularly heart-warming. Cavall is so reliable and the addition of Angel was a nice touch for Helki who preferred "the company of hawk and hound", and not forgetting Ham and Dulayl.
Wytt's importance in this book, as in the first three, cannot be overstated. The little hairy fellow becomes more captivating with each book.
'Wytt leaped out of her arms and chattered loudly. He snatched up his little sharp stick and brandished it over his head and started prancing all around. “It’s a war dance — he’s doing a war dance!” Jack said. “He’s all excited, but he isn’t saying why. He’s all keyed up.”'
'He made a squeaking noise that was Omah-laughter.'
You really do bring him to life with your remarkable writing.
The finale of this book, as with all of them, is very dramatic! Of course I won't give anything away, but Chillith's last stand before the Thunder King, "You are delivered into judgment!" was spine-chilling!
I don't have space to talk about the rest of the characters, Jack & Ellayne, Ryons, Obst, the various Heathen chieftains, Jandra, Helki of course, and now Gurun, they're all captivating.
The final chapter as a summary to tie up loose ends was a good idea, but I was a little surprised you omitted any descripion of the reunion between Ellayne and her father. With the reintroduction of Roshay Bault into the story, it looked as though the reader was being setup for a father-daugher reunion. Should we just assume it happened exactly as Ellayne imagined it?
“My mother will cry when I come home. She always does,” Ellayne said. “My father will be furious, but not for long. If my brothers are there, too, they’ll pretend they never noticed I was gone. I might even get a good hiding for running away. And then I’ll tell them why I ran away and what we’ve done!” She couldn’t imagine what they’d say. What do you say when your child turns out to be a hero, a servant of God, like a hero of the Scripture? She could hardly wait to see how they would try to handle it.
Also what happened to Ashrof? The last I recall he had been made acting prester of Ninneburky by Roshay Bault. Along with the rest of Ninneburky, he had survived the Heathen attack due to a fortuitous downfall of snow and freezing rain. Where did he end up?
And also Trapper Tim? I know he was one of the new characters introduced in book four, but he also didn't get a mention in the final wrap up. Did Gurun ever try to get back home to Fogo Island, or is she satisfied being Queen?
Don't take these queries as criticisms, it's just that I was so engrossed by the characters and their individual stories that I couldn't help but be left with these questions.
Anyway Lee, you're a genius, and this fourth book is another triumph! I'm certain that one day they'll make your Bell Mountain books into a series of movies. They have to, they're utterly delightful and would undoubtedly be a huge success!
Congratulations once again!