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The Final Sacrifice
Patricia Bray
Bantam Spectra, 368 pages

The Final Sacrifice
Patricia Bray
Patricia Bray began her career writing historical novels set in Regency-era England before making the leap to epic fantasy with the sale of her Sword of Change trilogy. A resident of upstate New York, Patricia balances her writing with a full-time career as an I/T project manager. In 2003, her novel Devlin's Luck received the Compton Crook award for the best first novel.

Patricia Bray Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Final Sacrifice
SF Site Review: The First Betrayal and The Sea Change

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

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Following the untimely deaths of the rest of the royal family, only Prince Lucius remained to be crowned emperor of Ikaria. Now Lucius reigns supreme over a land that could crack apart at any moment, thanks to the high-level rivalries and scheming of the court, and the just-ended war with the seafaring Seddon Federation. What only a small handful of people know is that Lucius, at one time exiled for a treacherous attempt to usurp the crown in his youth, is not the man he used to be. Dark magics were used to place the soul of a dying monk, Brother Josan, into Lucius' body, and now the souls of two men occupy one space, coexisting awkwardly. Unfortunately, the magics are failing, and the body is dying. Lucius and Josan may have learned to work together to maintain a fragile masquerade, but it will all be for naught if they both perish now.

Thus, the "Emperor" of Ikaria announces he's going to his summer palace... and promptly vanishes, leaving a small handful of people behind to keep Ikaria safe while he journeys to far-off Xandropol in search of a cure for his condition. But what sort of cure will succeed, and who will be left inhabiting Lucius' body when it's all over? The trip is far and hazardous, and Lucius may not even make it to his destination if some people have their way. To make things even messier, Lady Ysobel, the Seddon merchant-captain who's plotted against Ikaria several times in the past, is on Lucius' trail, eager to figure out what could possibly draw the Emperor away from his land. She's either his worst enemy, or one of a tiny number of useful allies, but even she can't decide which would be better. Meanwhile, back in Ikaria, several of Lucius' advisors plot to seize the throne. Unfortunately, someone wants a renewed war to break out between Ikaria and the Federation, and only Lucius can stop it. But if he detours now, it could mean the end of his quest... and his life. With time running out swiftly, what course will he take? The shared tale of Brother Josan and Prince Lucius, two men forced against all odds to work together, ends here, and only one will live to tell the tale.

The Final Sacrifice wraps up the trilogy, tying together all of the loose ends and disparate threads that have run throughout the books. Lady Ysobel's loyalties, Proconsul Zuberi's political scheming, the fates of two lands, and most definitely the separate yet joined existences of Lucius and Josan, they all come into play for the last time. Patricia Bray does an admirable job of keeping the various plot threads from getting too tangled, as she brings everything together for the home stretch. It's a nice payoff for those who've been reading, and right until the very end, she keeps us guessing as to just how things will be resolved. Honestly, it's pretty clear from the title and story that only one person -- Josan or Lucius -- will survive due to their current predicament, but it's up in the air as to which one will make that "final sacrifice" and I appreciate the lingering suspense. As well, Lady Ysobel's self-serving nature is played to good effect here, making her ally and enemy all in one.

All in all, I enjoyed The Final Sacrifice, and it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I'll miss Lucius and Josan, but they told an interesting story before they were through. I'll be looking forward to whatever Patricia Bray does next, as she's really proven she has the ability to take the usual fantasy trappings, and tell an unexpected, almost subversive story with them. The Sword of Change trilogy reinvented the "chosen one" concept, and this series interwove political intrigue and unusual magics to look at the nature of a man's soul and what defines his existence. Some might find it a little dry and intellectual -- there's very little romance or action to be found here -- but it's nice to occasionally find a fantasy series that doesn't feel the need to resort to sex or violence when things get quiet. No, as is fitting for a tale about two souls trapped in one body, The Final Sacrifice plays out on a cerebral level for the most part, where things get accomplished through conversation, negotiation, political maneuvering, research, and quiet events, with only a few larger action scenes occurring to move characters from one stage to another. It's a breath of fresh air, in some ways, and helps to distinguish the overall tone for the trilogy. Here's hoping Bray can keep up the good work.

Copyright © 2009 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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