While taking a brief break from writing after submitting “Blue Notes” to Dreamspinner, I finished the “Invisible Bonds” trilogy by Andrew Ashling. In my opinion, Andrew’s strength as a writer lies in his characters. They are flawed to the core, to the point that you aren’t sure you’ll be able to like them. And yet, each time, you are drawn in to their stories and end up loving them and clinging to the hope that they will overcome the enormous obstacles in their paths.
The “Invisible Chains” series is historical fantasy along the lines of “Lord of the Rings,” but without the magical undercurrent. In this alternate universe, the King of Ximerion decides to test his two youngest sons by sending them to the northernmost part of the kingdom, where the barbarian Mukthars threaten to invade. He sends them off without the benefit of sufficient troops or supplies. This is the story of Anaxantis, the sickly, sixteen-year-old prince and his older, half-brother, Ehandar. It is a story of love, betrayal, and coming of age in a time of war. And a beautiful story it is!
I hope that after reading my review of the final installment in the “Invisible Bonds” series, you’ll consider reading the books. Each installment is a novel unto itself, and together they are a substantial read. My review of Book One is also on Goodreads.com (links to all my reviews are at the bottom of this post).
This, the third installment of the “Invisible Chains” trilogy, was in my opinion the best, with the first a close second. Mr. Ashling masterfully laid out the climax of the series: the battle for the Northern Marches and the resolution of the troubled relationship between the two princes, Anaxantis and Ehandar. In spite of my lingering frustration with the lack of “cleanup” editing (typos abound), by the end I didn’t care all that much. This is a testament to Mr. Ashling’s unique voice and his knack for creating characters that are wonderfully flawed and irresistible.
MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:This installment of the trilogy focuses in large part upon preparations for war, and a seemingly unwinnable one, at that. In the background, the relationship between Anaxantis and his half-brother Ehandar has reached the breaking point, with the focus on Anaxantis’ obsessive need to control the darker side of Ehandar which he believes still lurks behind the kind and attentive submissive/slave, “Tarno,” and Ehandar’s own growth.
As always, what drew me in and held me spellbound was not the action itself, although the battle preparations were remarkably well thought out and described. No, what captured me were the narratives through which I was able to peer inside the minds of Anaxantis and Ehandar and, in this installment, Ehandar especially. I despaired that the brothers would survive the end of the book (sorry, no spoilers here!), and my heart broke for them both. And here, the resolution was really quite lovely and poignant.
The secondary characters that populate this book were also a joy to follow. From sexy rogue Rullio, who is determined to find out what has happened to his friend, Ehandar, to the goofy and sweet Ryhunzo and his alter-ego, and Lorcko, whose perfection stands in the way of his finding happiness. I loved the Mukthar prince and his henchmen, as well.
I do hope that Mr. Ashling will consider a re-edit of these books, if only to do justice to the intelligence and strength of the writing. The same is true for another point that has been discussed in some of the reviews: use of modern language in the stories. I realize now that the modern language only bothered me when it crept into the narrative itself. Since most of the narrative is in a more formal voice, this “ragged edge” could also be taken care of in a re-edit. With these two caveats, I’d have given the entire series a 5-star.
In spite of the minor blemishes, Mr. Ashling delivers a brilliantly executed story that I will probably reread at some point. Five stars for the outstanding story-telling and character development, as well as the intricate and intelligent plotting throughout.