Queen Corrin is ruling the Known Lands with authority, she has brought her slain brother Aliver back to the land of the living, but her son lies unconscious as a result of an attack on the castle. Dariel and Mena are still out in the world fulfilling their own destinies, while destiny/fate comes crashing on the shores of Acacia. The Santoth, the magical beings who were the salvation of the Acacians in The War with the Mein are preparing to take back The Song of Elenet, the powerful music of creation by any means necessary. Thus begins The Sacred Band, the concluding volume of David Anthony Durham’s remarkable Acacia trilogy.
Over the course of the trilogy, the character with whom I most identified and whose thread I most enjoyed was Mena. Both Alivar and Corrin seemed too distant; Aliver by the godlike aura he evoked, and Corrin by shunning all those close to her. Mena, on the other hand, never shied away from getting right into situations; she was the only person to really get close to Aidan, the queen’s son, and she found a symbiotic friendship with Elya, the dragon. Mena is sent on a mission which seems unwinnable; put a halt to the enemy people the Auldek, until she defies the orders her sister, the Queen, set for her. Making decisions on the fly and adjusting the situation at hand have been a hallmark of Mena’s character throughout the prior two novels, and here, that ingenuity pays of in major dividends.
Dariel, the once-pirate Spratling, is anointed as Rhuin Fà savoir of the slaves of Ushan Brae. Where Mena underwent the most mythic of journeys in the first novel, here Dariel takes his proverbial swim in the mythic waters. He is surrounded by unique and interesting characters; Mor, the female leader of the tribe who is reluctantly leading on the mythic journey; Tunnel, the large, brutish man who immediately upon meeting Darial thinks he is the Rhuin Fà. During Dariel’s symbolic ascent, his role in the lineage of Akarans throws into doubt that he who profited from the slave trade should be the one to help abolish it. Although he continually rails against Mor and her people that knowledge of the slave trade was kept from him for most of his life, the hard feelings don’t scrub away easily.
Late in The Other Lands, a daughter – Shen – Aliver fathered prior to his death was revealed. The Santoth, the creatures of magic tied into the Akaran lineage, have been speaking to her. Shen is helping to lead the Santoth back to the Known Lands, though their purpose is far less benevolent than Shen, Kellis (Aliver’s close friend introduced in The War with the Mein) initially expected.
The War with the Mein showed action primarily in The Known Lands, the empire from which the Akarans and Acacia Rule. In The Other Lands, Durham revealed the greater world at large, at least the locales and some of the geography. With the finale at hand in The Sacred Band, the history of the world comes into greater light. This progression is one of the many strong elements of the narrative and Durham’s technique is expert. Even moreso than in The Other Lands, we learn more about the horrors the slave people have had to endure, as well as the mysterious long lives of the Auldeks. The Auldeks may live forever, but they are unable to either bear children, or retain their full centuries worth of memories. While the lives of the slave children fuel them, it strips them of the ability to procreate.
Meanwhile, Corinn is damaged and is seeing the ghost of her husband, Meander. The weight of her rule has finally come crashing down on her, causing her to fold into herself and resist any communication with the outside world, aside from her dead husband’s ghost. Unfortunately, her people need her the most and only coaxing from her resurrected brother Aliver might bring her out of her self-imposed seclusion.
The Akaran family manages to almost come together by novel/trilogy’s end, bittersweet it may have been. I felt the conclusion to the novel and trilogy as a whole felt right, appropriate based on the foundation Durham laid leading up to it.
Like in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, a theme of Durham’s epic is the blurring of history depending on who is recounting it. A war between nations in the distant past has come to be a squabble between siblings; the horrible actions of the founder of the Akaran dynasty are transformed into heroic epic deeds; memories cannot hold over in beings who have lived for centuries. Perhaps because The Acacia Trilogy is a more focused saga, this blurring of history becomes a more powerful part of the story.
The Acacia Trilogy is a rarity in early 21st Century Epic Fantasy – it is a complete story in three volumes, whereas many fantasy sagas are seemingly unending or expand beyond the initial project volume count. Granted, the tomes are quite large averaging well over 500 pages, but upon finishing the third book, it was clear that Durham had a solid framework in which he wanted to tell this tale. I’ve long said that two of the hallmarks of great Epic Fantasy are balancing the epic (grand-scale world events) and intimate (character moments, characterization) and showing the fantastic, imagined lands through the characters’ eyes. David Anthony Durham has far exceeded the standard on those hallmarks.
The Acacia Trilogy is Very Highly Recommended
© 2013 Rob H. Bedford
Originally published in Hardcover, October 2011
Review copy (Trade Paperback) personal copy 784 pages, 97800307947154
Book three of the Acacia Trilogy