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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 First Betrayal and The Sea Change

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

The Final Sacrifice begins where most stories have already left off. The war is over, the Empress is dead and the hero has risen to take her place. Only instead of enjoying the fruits of his endeavours, the Emperor Lucius is fighting the slow degeneration caused by the magical grafting of two souls into one body. Those two souls, Scholar-monk Josan and aristocrat Lucius, may have come to an uneasy truce, thwarting those who'd sought to use them as a political tool, but their alliance does little to slow the wasting of both body and soul that afflicts them. Every day they get weaker, and if any of their enemies realise their affliction then those days will come to an abrupt stop. And there are no shortages of enemies in their court, both home-grown and foreign.

Josan's research in the Imperial library has drawn a blank and they are faced with a stark choice; death or the abandonment of Empire in search of a cure. With the attacks growing ever more severe they choose to look for a cure, but the Empire will not be so easily abandoned.

The Final Sacrifice follows the twin-souled emperor as he flees his capital city and heads to the famed libraries at Xandropol in search of a cure. His friends are left behind to search for his trail and the Emperor travels in the company of his enemies. Although his most bitter enemy might turn out to be the one sharing his body, as both souls realize that one of them must die.

The conclusion to Patricia Bray's Chronicles of Josan trilogy -- The First Betrayal and The Sea Change preceding it -- could almost have worked as a stand-alone novel. The events of the previous two books are woven elegantly through the narrative, reminding and informing while rarely seeming like the unnatural intrusion of exposition, and Lucius plight is evident enough that explanation isn't needed.

There's a lot to like in this novel. The continuing conflict between Josan and Lucius -- their alliance doesn't change the fact that they are very different people forced to share very cramped accommodation -- gives the novel an interesting tension. In many ways they need each other, and not just to co-ordinate the upkeep of their shared body. Where Josan prevaricates, Lucius acts; where Lucius is foolhardy, Josan is mindful. Yet, both characters and reader know that only one of them can survive.

The Final Sacrifice is an effective resolution to the story and Bray avoided the temptation of cheating the narrative to try and acquire a happy ending for her main characters. As a result the book's conclusion is a convincing and emotionally satisfying one. It was the right way, the only way, to end the story.

It was a smaller scale novel than I had expected, considering the involvement of warring empires, back-room politics and magic. The focus of the novel was personal, on Josan and Lucius, instead of on the geopolitical manoeuvrings. Even at the end, when the Emperor Lucius reclaimed his crown and sent his navy to war, it felt smaller than it could have. We were told rather than really see the fight, with characters reporting on bloodshed from a distance. Perhaps this was a conscious choice -- to highlight the impersonal nature of the use of the Ikarian's Burning Terror as a weapon -- but it still stole a lot of tension and immediacy from the narrative.

Despite that, and a too-convenient for Emperor Lucius rash of assassinations near the end of the novel, this was a highly enjoyable book. The characters, whether likeable or not, were believable and well written and the plot was effective. A few loose threads left dangling at the end -- the question of what happened to Brother Nikos, who was behind the assassinations -- make me wonder if perhaps Patricia Bray plans to visit this world again.

Copyright © 2008 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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