Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
I am free! Over a year ago I embarked on re-reading the two trilogies that comprise The Wayfarer Redemption, and with Crusader I have achived this goal. Sara Douglass no longer has any hold over me! (So, after I finished this book, I discovered that of course Douglass couldn’t resist writing another sequel trilogy, featuring Axis and StarDrifter, along with characters from other novels. I could, therefore, keep going. But I will not, and this review should make hopefully explain why.)
In many ways, Crusader is like one of the Avengers movies. There are a lot of people with powers wandering around, stepping on each other’s toes, and internecine disputes abound. Everyone is out for the most screen time they can wrangle from the screenwriter, not realizing the director’s final cut is going to change everything….
Oh, sorry, did you want an actual summary? Fine.
Set a hot second after the events of Pilgrim, Crusader throws us into Qeteb’s reign of terror and DragonStar’s utter lack of a plan for dealing with it. Caelum is dead, and pretty much all the good magic is gone, except for the magic that isn’t gone. DragonStar has no allies left, except for the ones he does have. People and entities die, except that they go to heaven and basically that’s the endgame—some kind of Narnia-esque “Tencendor was but a reflection of the true existence” bullshit.
Anyway, this book is the same kind of hot mess that this series is, and honestly if you make it this far I think you deserve some kind of medal.
I want to praise Douglass’ imagination. She can certainly come up with the kinds of creative ideas that make fantasy novels compelling. The subtle touches of science fiction, nods to Earth and other such elements are a nice way of further enhancing what might otherwise feel like a less interesting story. If there’s one thing you can’t accuse this series of, it’s unoriginality. This is a series packed to the brim with original concepts—and that, of course, is the problem.
Douglass’ playground is so filled with toys that, like a child improvising a narrative on that playground, she doesn’t know how to bring it all together. She jumps from character to character, subplot to subplot, all to the detriment of the story’s unity and coherence. What, exactly, am I supposed to care about here? Qeteb and DragonStar’s ultimate grudge match? Axis feeling obsolete? Faraday feeling like she has to sacrifice herself? The fact that random characters with powers keep showing up at just the right time?
Crusader reminds me of Malazan in terms of the cognitive strain this world places on me as the reader. Whereas in Malazan’s case it’s remembering cities’ worth of characters and their story arcs, in this book’s case it’s more about the various moving parts that interfere with one another’s plots. I admire Douglass’ attempt to make her fantasy feel more “realistic.” There’s certainly many fantasy novels that are too straightforward, and I would criticize them for it. Yet in her attempt to make her world more fleshed out, I fear Douglass has gone too far in the other direction. This book is unfulfilling for me because it tries to do too much.
Also (and this is a nitpick but one I can’t shake), it’s just weird that all of this affects the land of Tencendor only, not the entire planet. So all this magic stops at Tencendor’s borders? All these creatures are somehow unique to Tencendor? Even the Gatekeeper lady? This was never explored in earlier books, and the fact that there even are other lands is kind of glossed over except for brief mentions in books 1 and … I think maybe 4. So when Crusader is like, “Yeah, the Corolean Empire is going to be weirded out by what’s happening here,” I was like, “What … this isn’t a global phenomenon?”
This is a flawed ending to a flawed series. With a few exceptions, I felt like each subsequent book brought me diminishing returns. Douglass is an author full of big ideas, but her eagerness to include every big idea in one story results in a cluttered playground with too many characters, too many grudges, too many stories for one book to contain coherently. Crusader isn’t bad, but it also isn’t good.
And the incest and rape stuff continues to be creepy and uncomfortable AF.