Wow. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you conclude one of the pivotal fantasy epics of the 21st century. The Core is not just a fitting conclusion to The Demon Cycle, it is (by far) the greatest book of an already impressive saga. Peter V. Brett has saved the best for last in a story that is big, bold, and brilliant.
You know you’re in for something special when the book opens with a chapter told from a demon’s point of view. That’s right, the first voice we hear is not that of Arlen or Jardir, not that of Leesha, Renna, or Inevera, but that of the Alagai Ka. It’s creepy and unsettling, it sets the perfect tone for a story that is rife with darkness, slipping ever deeper into the Abyss . . . and, yet, we are never without hope.
That, right there, is what distinguishes Brett from the grimdark crowd. His story is about as dark as it gets, with one crushing defeat after another, but the world never feels completely lost. Even as it becomes increasingly hard to see how humanity can possibly survive the Waning and the Swarm to follow, we latch onto any one of a dozen battles, trusting in one of those heroes to show us the way. Even as the demons become smarter, finding some very human ways to undermine what once seemed impenetrable warded defenses, we look to the most unlikely characters to cast off their pasts and sacrifice themselves for redemption.
For the first time in the series, we have a story without flashbacks. The entire book is told in the now, giving it a sense of immediacy, and adding to the already palatable tension. There is nary a slow chapter to the book, with every scene advancing the story forward. Time and time again we get epic confrontations that threaten to destroy major set pieces, any one of which would serve as a fitting finale to another book. We hardly have time to catch our breath between battles, but when we do, Brett brings back a surprising cast of characters, many of whom get their moment. Evils are forgiven, cruelties redeemed, and hatreds put aside in the face of Sharak Ka.
As for the epic descent into The Core itself, Arlen and Jardir both get their respective moments to shine. There’s is a journey worth of the saga itself, full of one sacrifice after another, and several discoveries that rock the foundation of the story’s mythology. Without spoiling anything, we do finally learn who the true Deliverer is, and what that legacy means . . . and it is an ending so perfect, I honestly cannot find a single flaw in how it all played out.