A loyal soldier and a wealthy merchant have served bravely in the flames of an enduring war that is ravaging their land. But swords, bows, wits and courage will no longer be enough to defeat the scourge that is descending upon their home. For a foul and terrible thing has escaped from a world already devoured to feed on one consumed by chaos—an insatiable nightmare creature of dark and murderous nature which seeks to own and corrupt the very source of life itself
The final conflict is joined, pitting serpent against man and magician against demon. For those who battle in the cause of good, there will be victory . . . or there will be doom for all.
There can be no other outcome.
Rage of a Demon King is the third in the Serpentwar Saga and the penultimate book in that series. As such it might be surprising that the great and final battle takes place in this book and not the next one. In fact it surprised me all over again, despite this being my seventh time reading the book. It does explain why I keep switching Rage of a Demon King and Shards of a Broken Crown around whenever I’m making lists or schedules. And it also made me realise how much ten years away from these books and having pregnancy brain twice in that decade has caused me to forget about the Midkemia books, far more than I’d have thought. Good thing I’m doing a reread then, I reckon!
Where the first two in this cycle each had a clear main point-of-view regardless of the actual numbers of viewpoints, Rage of a Demon King is more of a mixed book, with both Erik and Roo’s viewpoints being equally important. This might be helped by the fact that they are mostly on one continent and are both near the main action in this book. In addition, there is also an interesting arc with Tomas, Pug and Miranda who don’t exactly do the heavy lifting fighting-wise, but whose battle is a critical part of the entire conflict—if they lose, everyone loses. It’ll be interesting to see whether Shards of a Broken Crown will retain Erik and Roo as its central protagonists or whether Feist switches it around once more.
Erik becomes better and better as a character, more rounded and layered, gaining more rough edges and more to lose. Roo on the other hand is still a great character, but he is getting even more mired in the things that I found problematic about him in Rise of a Merchant Prince. This time he is torn not just between Karli and Sylvia, but Helen Jacoby as well, though to be fair nothing happens between the latter and Roo other than longing looks, deep sighs and much ponderation. But Helen is clearly set up as the Madonna to Sylvia’s Eve and that bugged me. Mostly because Helen is a decent woman, who doesn’t deserve to pine for a man she can’t have, but also because it once again leaves Karli by the wayside, a fate she truly doesn’t deserve, especially since I think that ultimately she and Roo are quite compatible. Sylvia did get her comeuppance and it was rather splendid, but I wonder how Roo’s love life will resolve. And I hope he gets back to mercantile deviousness in Shards of a Broken Crown.
What I enjoyed about this book is that while the focus is clearly on the powerful and great of the land doing heroic doings to ‘Save the World’™, Feist also shows us the effect on the little people, those forced to leave their homes and goods behind, just to stay alive and the regular troops, who follow orders and end up far from home not even sure what they are fighting for. He shows the cost of war, both in a financial sense – the loans Duke James takes out to finance the army are stupendous – and a human sense. The book is laced with loss, from the razing of Krondor, the thousands of soldiers lost in the war, to some far more painful deaths of some of the most beloved characters in the Riftwar Cycle.
The resolution to the conflict between Midkemia and the Emerald Queen was wonderful and I liked how Feist resolved the situation with the Lifestone, bringing to an end something that was started in Magician. There is a clear set up for Shards of a Broken Crown, but it’s one that feels somewhat tacked on, as this quartet could easily have ended here as a trilogy. There is also the sense that had Feist wanted, he could have ended the Riftwar Cycle permanently at this point. I wonder if I’ll still feel that way after reading the final book of the series or whether it was already clear that there would be more adventures and that this was not the end. Be that as it may, I enjoyed Rage of a Demon King despite some of my misgivings and I’m looking forward to seeing how the next book will round out the Serpentwar Saga.
This review is part of my Midkemia Reread, in which I read all the books Raymond E. Feist wrote set in the world of Midkemia. For more on the why and how of this series of reviews, check out Midkemia Reread: An Introduction.