Until the Last by Mike Shackle review

Until the Last by Mike Shackle

Timy and Jen review Until the Last, the third book in The Last War grimdark fantasy series by Mike Shackle, published by Gollancz on July 21, 2022.

You can read our reviews of the previous books in the series: We Are the Dead, A Fool’s Hope.

Timy received an eARC from the publisher on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book
Series: The Last War #3Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark
Date of Publishing: July 21, 2022Trigger Warnings: death, gore, violence
Page count: 784Publisher: Gollancz
Book Blurb
Until the Last by Mike Shackle

THE TIME HAS COME.
SEKINOWARI – THE LAST WAR – HAS ARRIVED.

The breakneck conclusion to the trilogy that started with We Are the Dead. To beat the ultimate evil, sometimes the price is more than you can pay . . .

The war with the Egril has changed Tinnstra forever. A coward no more, she’ll go to any length to defeat every last one of her enemies.

Zorique has grown into her powers. It’s time for her to lead her army into Jia and spearhead the fight for her homeland.

But at what cost? The Egril emperor Raaku – the Son of Kage himself – is waiting for them. And he intends to destroy Zorique, Tinnstra and all their allies.

They will need to put everything on the line if Jia hopes to see the dawn.

Quote of the Book

“There’s nothing wrong with doubt of fear. We should question what we do. We should worry that things may go wrong. That’s how we prepare. That’s how we push ourselves to be better than we are.”

Song of the Book

As I picked Breaking Benjamin songs for both We are the Dead and A Fool’s Hope, it was only natural to end the trilogy with yet another song from them. This time my pick fell on Until the End, because, well, this is Until the Last and it seemed rather fitting.

Review

Reviewing a third – and last – book in a series is never easy. While I’ll try my best to make this as spoiler free as possible, it probably will contain some, especially for the previous two books, so please proceed with caution if you are new to Mike Shackle‘s The Last War series.

Until the Last is definitely one of my most anticipated Fantasy releases in 2022. Not least because there is a character in this book named after me – and yes, I’m *that* vain, #sorrynotsorry – and also because I was really curious how these characters’ story will end. Knowing Shackle’s previous books, I had no illusions about everyone having a happy ending, the question was who – if anyone – will make it to the end. My lips are sealed though, so you will have to read the book to find those answers for yourself.

As with A Fool’s Hope, Until the Last also starts right where the story got dropped off – Meigore is freed and Jia waits for its fate to be decided in Sekinowari, the Last War. Everyone’s eyes fall on Aisair where the outcome will be decided. But, Tinnstra, Zorique, Ralasis, and the others have a long way ahead of them until that one last battle and it’s not free of hardships, heartache, surprises, and hard decisions. Then again, we are talking about a Mike Shackle book here, and all of that – and much more – is to be expected. It’s my pleasure to let you know that Shackle indeed delivers in that regard. Sekinowari is fought, all the main players get their closure one way or another and all the plotlines get tucked in neatly. I believe anyone who followed the series so far will be satisfied by this last installment which shall not be missed.

I’m having trouble writing a review for this book because the characters I want to talk about the most I can’t without major spoilers, which puts me at a disadvantage because their POV chapters were also my favorite parts of the book and IT’S TOTALLY UNFAIR, OKAY?! I can’t wait for people to read Until the Last finally, so I could scream with them. Alas, I’m forced to talk about other characters instead. Most of whom are returning ones from the previous books in the trilogy. Where my favorites used to be Dren – yes, I know, I hated the little shit for a good while in We are the Dead – and Jax, in this book Ralasis stepped up to be among them. I just wish we had more of him, with his easy ways and generally goofy attitude lightening up the mood – which was sorely needed.

Then we have Tinnstra and Yas, two very different women, with their own battles and demons, two major characters in the events, and still, I never really warmed up to them. Although I admit, Tinnstra got the better character arc overall and got through some drastic changes. And while I appreciate her as a character and everything she did, and all the suffering she went through for her goals – including a not-too-healthy addiction – she never got much emotional reaction from me – except for being irritated and/or annoyed by her and her attitude -, which is a shame, but in a series with a cast as big as this, one can’t love all the characters. And others tend to get lost in the crowd.

However, I found most that were introduced to us in Until the Last quite to my liking. Wenna, for instance, was a good addition, who gave us a peek into what’s going on in the background while we mostly follow Tinnstra and co’s progress. It was also a welcome change that we got to see a bit more of the Egril side, although I’d have liked more of that and less of Tinnstra and co.

And now a bit of criticism, most of which comes down to personal tastes, so take them as you will. I found the pacing a bit uneven overall. There were times I was sitting on the edge of my seat – especially when my favorite POV chapters came up – and there were times when I felt the story was dragging. Again, this is me, as I’m not a fan of books where there is a long period of time where the characters are journeying from point A to point B. I can’t help but get bored as it tends to become a bit repetitive where they either walk, fight or sleep. While I understand why these parts were important – as they added a lot of details that later came in handy – I couldn’t help feeling time spent on these bits would have been better used elsewhere. Say, learning more about the Egril and Raaku. Who remained to be a bit too one-dimensional and other characters from that side totally outshone him in every aspect. That said, I really missed Matheon’s POV.

Maybe because of the change in my reading habits and preferences in the past couple of years (much less grimdark) – I started my journey with We Are the Dead back in early 2020 – or maybe because of my general dislike regarding some tropes or some of the current world events hitting a bit too close in similarity, Until the Last didn’t end up being my favorite book in the trilogy. However, it certainly brought a satisfactory ending to the series and will be definitely loved by those who stuck with these characters over the years.

The Last War series tells a dark tale about war and the ends people go to in order to win it. Until the Last is a more relevant grimdark fantasy novel today than Shackle or anyone could have anticipated, and it adds an extra flavor to it. It certainly makes one think about life, death, and everything in between, about the choices we make and the consequences we have to live with. And hope that in the end, fighting until the last was all worth it.

Quote of the Book

Zorique stared out through the tent opening, her heart broken. ‘I hope you’re right.’

This time, Aasgod’s smile came easily. ‘Do you know what the soldiers call you?’

‘Do I want to?’ Zorique doubted it was anything good.

‘Hope. They call you Hope.’

‘That’s something, I suppose.’

 ‘That’s everything.’

Song of the Book

I had several songs by this band in mind but finally decided to go with this one.

Silent TheoryAlice

Review

Between self-pub and the traditional publishing market, there is no shortage of incredible stories coming down the pipe. These days I start more series than I will ever finish and for that reason, if you’re seeing a review for a final book from me, you know that I must have found that something special.

Mike Shackle’s The Last War trilogy has been a magic-potion of great storytelling, edge-of-your-seat action, and memorable characters. I have anxiously awaited each book’s release, and I am genuinely sad to have to say my final goodbyes to these characters.

As this is a review for the final book, please be aware of possible spoilers for previous books.

I’ll try to keep this shorter than I did for A Fool’s Hope, which in some ways will be easier to do because it’s nearly impossible to talk about anything at all without spoiling something. And also, harder because I have no clue where to focus my attention. I’m already regretting my shoddy notetaking this time around as I grasp for a place to start.

This is a seriously chonky tale. Until the Last is broken into six parts, and you know that tip of the iceberg feeling I mentioned back in my review for We Are the Dead? Well, here is the rest of that iceberg.

Each section adds to the history, the characters, and the world itself – completing the picture that was started back in the first book. We have always known the world was large, but with the focus primarily set on our characters in their different locations- it was easy to get caught up in them, and kind of forget the magnitude of the world they live in.

This book really brought home the vastness of the Egril’s army, and the consequences of what losing to them mean, while also keeping that personal aspect, firmly in the forefront.

A quick rundown

Until the Last picks up with Tinnstra after finding success in Meigore, returning with her army to take back her city.

Yas and the refugees have left the caves out of necessity, hoping for a fresh start.

Hassan and the remaining Shulka are gathering their forces to join Tinnstra’s army for that one last shot at driving the Egril army out of their country.

And a few things that really resonated with me

Tinnstra

One of my favourite scenes that takes place outside of a bakery in We are the Dead gets a callback in this book. It was a truly great scene because it brought home more than anything else could have the growth of her character from then, to now. And what a journey she has had! The Tinnstra of today would never be caught cowering, as people around her are being drugged from their homes and killed.

Tinnstra was a spitting ball of anger throughout this book, and sometimes, I wanted to smack her when she pushed away loved ones in her prickliness. It was obvious though, underneath all that rage, just how much she cared about all the people around her – whether she knew them or not, and how much of her fury was wrapped-up in feeling helpless in the face of the task before her.

Ange and Garo

These two not only were a lot of fun but occasionally offered a lightening of the atmosphere with their bickering. Ange, in particular, kept one of my other favourite characters (Dren, for those of you just joining the party) around in spirit. Assuring his sacrifice was not forgotten, and I loved her all the more for giving me that connection to him.

Jax

He was barely holding on in the last book. And as much as it seemed like he was improving, and as much as we hoped he was – I was left waiting and wondering when that train wreck we knew was coming was going to happen. And I loved every stressful second of it!

Yas

My fierce little mama bear stays fierce. In some ways, Yas had some of the harder choices to be made in the series while being a Weeping Man and one of the leaders of the refugees. I could see the toll that her position began to take on her. There was a hardness and lack of compassion, that at times made some of her decisions hard to swallow. The differences between her and Tinnstra in leadership roles were very noticeable in this book.

Also, my biggest “How could you” moment of the series had to do with Yas. If you have read the story, I have no doubts you will know exactly which moment I am speaking of… any other time, or any other character, in any other series I would have bravo’d this move, because in all honestly, it was likely deserved, but in a time of survival like this – this choice gutted me.

Others that I loved spending time with – Zorique, Ralasis, Wenna, Asgod. I did miss Mateon more than I expected. My “love to hate her” character was Captain Vallia! She was so deliciously bad! And so smart – I questioned constantly how, and if, Tinnstra, and co. would ever gain the upper-hand against her combination of brilliance, and resources.

I was a little worried I would have trouble remembering people, and events, it has been a while and the cast has grown quite a lot over the series. But I needn’t have because anything important is nicely tucked into the story – quickly and efficiently giving us reminders without weighty info-dumps. I’ve said it before but Shackle has a gift for feeding information, in bits and pieces on the fly.

It may surprise people when I tell them that The Last War is one of my favourite series. It’s dark and doesn’t pull any punches when showing the nasty side of humanity. We see it all – the winners, the losers, and the people caught in between. Some deaths may even blindside you. Not everyone gets to be the big-damned-hero and occasionally, a favourite character’s death just feels senseless, and awful.

But it’s not all darkness and death. What makes this series so special, are the moments that balance those out. The ones that showcase our humanity – the friendships, love, forgiveness, and even the occasional laughs (because it can’t be all doom and gloom). More importantly, though, hiding underneath all those complicated emotions that make us who we are, and fueling that will to survive… there is hope. What a stunningly amazing series this was.

Other notes

I appreciate when an author knows when to go dark for optimum effect. There are several times where that was used brilliantly, leaving me haunted by certain fates of characters. Sometimes what’s left off the page is just as much a gut-punch as what’s on the page.

The fights have that fun, wuxia flare. I enjoyed them so much.

Our Judgement
They Shall Be Remembered - 4.5 Crowns

Timy, also known as Queen Terrible Timy hails from a magical land called Hungary, born and raised in its capital city, Budapest. Books have been her refuge and best friends ever since she can remember along with music. She might be a tiny bit addicted to the latter. Timy is the owner and editor of Queen's Book Asylum. In her free time (hah!) she likes to create things, collect panda stuff, go to concerts, travel, and take the literary world one book at a time.

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