And we arrive now at the final instalment of my reviews of the Godspeaker trilogy. Picking up soon after the end of The Riven Kingdom, Hammer of God is the epic battle between Mijak and Ethrea, between Hekat and Dmitrak (for Mijak) and Zandakar and Rhian (for Ethrea). Portents, prophecies, faith, and family are all important parts of this book, as Karen Miller propels her plot towards its final, brutal confrontation.
Miller spent the first two books building up Mijak as not just a credible threat but an overwhelming, nigh-invincible one. Not only are they aligned with demons and practising human sacrifice, but the people of Mijak are just fierce (and not in the fashion way). Time and again, Rhian or other Ethreans moan about how, with no standing army, Ethrea will fall before the Mijak warhost without mounting any real resistance.
So the majority of this book concerns the struggle to cobble together that resistance. Before she can create an army, Rhian must secure permission from the trading nations that do business with Ethrea—part of its treaty with these nations prohibits the development of an army. She also needs to persuade these nations to lend their fleets to her cause. But the threat of Mijak is far-off and far from apparent. And even if it weren’t, Rhian would still have to deal with the ambassadors’ prejudices against her age and sex. She has a hard enough time with her own dukes, and even her husband.
I’m ambivalent about the way Miller deals with Rhian and Alastair’s relationship in this book. In many ways it feels like a rehash of what happened in The Riven Kingdom. It would be nice to see Alastair’s character develop further—though, to be fair, he starts to come round by the end.
Theirs is not the only relationship that seems trapped in a complicated epicycle of quick-tempered indignation. Rhian and her dukes (especially when discussing Han or Zandakar), Dexterity and Ursa, Hekat and Vortka, all display the same characteristics. Miller’s characters, when angry, always seem to be angry in exactly the same way.
Once again, Hammer of God strikes me as somewhat longer than ideal. As with the characters’ relationships, the plot orbits a very complex yet very repetitive set of conditions. It just seems like there isn’t actually as much story here as there should be for a book this size. I was eternally waiting for Miller to get on with it, for Mijak to show up, and for the battle to begin.
Yet when an author builds up an enemy as virtually unstoppable, it’s very difficult to then defeat that enemy without a clunky deus ex machina or equivalent. Miller has already waded deeply into such territory by invoking prophets and miracles, but she stops short of declaring everything destined and ordained. Rather, God sends a little help, but we have to do the rest.
Somehow, she manages to avoid making her resolution too clumsy. Instead, it comes down to the personal conflict between Zandakar and his surviving family members. He tries to reconcile with them rather than kill them, and his inability to do so is both tragic and essential for the conclusion of the story. Zandakar is the only one who can stop the Mijak warhost, turn it around, and return to remake Mijak in a more beneficent image. It all makes sense. I love it when endings make sense.
As far as conclusions to a trilogy go, Hammer of God does what one would expect. However, it drags on a little longer than it should. I can’t praise it for keeping me on the edge of my seat. Neither can I complain that it’s boring, confusing, or poorly written. Like a good deal of fantasy, it’s a series I’ve enjoyed but not one that will stick with me in much detail. Empress presents a high barrier to entry for a lot of readers, but the other two books definitely change the tone and footprint of the series.