Please note that this review shall contain story spoilers for the previous instalments, Thieves of Blood and Forge of the Mindslayers.
Sea of Death by Tim Waggoner is the third and final volume in the dark fantasy, sword and sorcery series, The Blade of the Flame Trilogy, which is set in the Eberron universe. It follows an assassin-turned-priest named Diran Bastiaan and his half-Orc best friend, Ghaji (pronounced Gha-yee), and their little crew of chums as they try to unite two opposing nations by ending a curse a hundred years in the living, while also hunting down the perpetrators that stole two precious items from them that shall eventually turn the tides of war.
Where the first book has almost non-stop brawling and the second slows down that flow for more character building, this third volume is a decent balance of the two. It’s a fantastic way to wrap up the trilogy as the adventuring and high-stakes violence makes up for it’s lacking presence in Forge of the Mindslayers, but then we have character growth that ensues as a part of their current circumstances and experiences (and even losses) that helps to make all of the characters stronger for their futures.
The events that take place here are more relative to detective-type work than anything else. The whole gang works diligently to recover Tresslar’s dragonwand that was stolen at the end of the second novel, as well as Yvka’s elemental sloop. This requires them to reach out to old acquaintances and new faces to gather information on how to go about recovering these objects. The process of asking questions and then having to complete favours in exchange for assistance is reminiscent of classic RPG (role-playing game) dynamics and portrays one of my favourite aspects of the sword-and-sorcery genre. It becomes easy to ascertain which character shall end up where once the final pages start getting closer and closer. It’s comforting yet also bittersweet because the reader can get a sense that this found-family squad shan’t be together forever. These are the slower, development-centred aspects of Sea of Death.
Along the way, they get embroiled into a blood-war between two island nations within the Lhazaar Principalities, providing them with the resources they need to embark on a voyage for the actual hunting-down portion of the tale, which contains beautifully engaging, adventurous action and ass-kicking that makes this book feel like a quintessential swashbuckling romp. Because there is so much at stake on whether Diran, Ghaji, and friends are able to re-obtain the dragonwand and the sloop, the tension is tighter with a thin veil of dread that hangs upon everyone’s shoulders. The reader can feel that something unforeseen and utterly terrible is in the works, and when it finally does arrive, it’s so unexpected that the gut-wrenching evocative sucker punch of it can leave quite the severe impact.
We read a lot about the person Diran used to be prior to becoming a priest, and being able to witness an event that nearly shoves him back into that very black and malevolent character brings out chills as well as eagerness for the brutality to proceed. I adored how it was handled here by giving the audience just enough for us to understand the depths of what Diran fought to leave behind, yet it also didn’t allow for all the effort and maturity that he developed to be washed away completely either. This can be a difficult equilibrium to maintain, especially when writing morally grey characters that just have the essence of soulless savagery stewing beneath the surface.
Sea of Death is my second favourite book in the series after Thieves of Blood and before Forge of the Mindslayers. While there’s a special place for the whole damn trilogy in my soul and always shall be, the bitterness of this novel really inspires me a lot as both a writer of tales and a consumer of them. There’s a lot of darkness here; a lot to illustrate the dualities of human nature, especially when our emotions during a time of grief end up getting the better of us. There are so many shades of grief across all three books, and they all come full circle in many ways with this final instalment. It’s not complete in the sense that there is no room for extra stories revolving around Diran and Ghaji to be had in the future, but it also doesn’t leave the important stuff unanswered or hanging loosely in the wind with ambiguity, which I greatly appreciated. Because of that, it helps the overarching narrative as well the subplots to be wonderfully satiating, particularly within the classic fantasy and sword and sorcery genres, and it leaves us with a memorable cast to appreciate and respect in their own light.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Sea of Death, especially if you have read the first two books in the trilogy. Don’t let the sluggishness of the second novel deter you from checking out the third because it truly does shine as bright as the first, if not even brighter. Readers of swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery and fans of found family facets shall greatly enjoy the tales within the pages of The Blade of the Flame Trilogy for sure.
Publication Date: February 2008
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Dark Fantasy
Series: The Blade of the Flame Book 3
Page Count: 352
Content Warnings: Strong violence. Swashbuckling action. Graphic gore and blood including body mutilation. Demonic imagery and possession. Graphic descriptions of spiders and their nest. Disturbing imagery of insect-imbued monsters. Non-consensual mind-control and possession. Brief nudity. Kidnapping. Use of poisons. Disturbing descriptions of nautical monsters. Mild sexual innuendo. Burglary. Racism against multiracial beings. Misogyny. Graphic descriptions of infections. Death of loved one(s).
GoodReads: Sea of Death by Tim Waggoner
Availability: Out-of-print; eBook only.