The Pillars of Sand by Mark T Barnes

“Education teaches us how to think, intelligence how to question, and our morality what to do with what we know. Be wary then of the educated, intelligent, and amoral person, for they will know only that they can do a thing, not whether they should.”

A book’s worth is usually gauged by its ending. A trilogy by the last book in its series. Plenty of sequences have been marred because the last book tends to trail off or not provide the reader what they had been craving in a finale. I’m happy to say Mark T Barnes’s last book in the Echoes of Empire trilogy does not disappoint. It may not be the strongest in the series, but it is most definitely a fitting end to Indris, Mari, and Corajidinn’s journey.

The Shrianese Federation is in turmoil. A new Asrahn has taken the throne, and Corajidinn has vowed to stop at nothing to keep that position. He plans to lead his country into a second Golden Age, not matter what the cost. Standing in his way is our other two POVs, Indris, the rough and tumble Scholar, and his own daughter, Mari, the famed warrior poet. But while love may hold them together, the two antagonists to Corajidinn’s journey are miles apart. Set on two very different paths, neither to each other’s liking or choice. But sometimes you work with what you got to save the world from destruction.

Revelations are unwound, and more mysteries abound in such a thrilling conclusion to one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read this past year.

But if you’ll note, I speak as if Corajidinn is the protagonist. Far from it. What I’m getting at is he’s not so much a villain as a man trying to do what he thinks is best. A flawed individual set out to fix some problems in the worst of ways. Yes, he does some nasty things on his way to the top and further then. But he does it with his family in mind, even if his mind is not sound as we progress farther.

Indris and Mari, on the other hand, might be fighting for different ideals, but they are just as gray in their actions. Our anti-hero of the mix is a man scorned and broken, looking for answers he probably shouldn’t be searching for. He has turned his back on his teachers, just as they did the nations of Ia, and vows to unearth his “father-in-law” from his seat before anything worse can come of it.

And Mari is a fighter, set upon the cold and craggy island governed by her grandmother. Problem is, the woman is colder than the weather that surrounds her. Which makes Mari’s rally cry of rebellion and subsequent fights that follow all the more satisfying.

Throughout the trilogy, I felt as if each book centered firmly on one of the three POV characters, whether intentionally or not. Barnes’s debut told us of Indris’s guiding hand and protection on his family, and the doubts and love he came to learn through Mari. His sequel was arms above the first, and did the unimaginable: It made me care about a madman, Corajidinn.

But The Pillars of Sand squarely sets down Mari in the center of things. For once, I actually cared what happened to her. Bravo.

However, it would be amiss to rattle on just about her. Why, I feel the other two are just as important in the grand scheme of things.

While Mari wraps her head around peace of mind among other things and doing for herself what she should’ve done a long time ago, shackles be damned, Indris tries to do the opposite.

He has largely been touted as the hero of this tale. Without a doubt, this is correct. But what makes him stand out from most anti-heroes is his wish not to learn. He is a sorcerer of unparalleled strength. He can summon lightning and make the earth tremble underneath his feet. But he has glimpsed what true power can do for him, what people want him to become. Almost a god.

And that scares him.

Rightly so. Thus, he must balance saving the world and saving himself. Because to find the answers, he must learn dark secrets the Seq have kept buried for a reason. Secrets about himself that were learned too early and erased from his mind.

Yes, we finally understand about the Dragons, and his work in the Spine.

It’s the simple stuff like this that makes me shake in anticipation. There’s a whole heap of world-building present in Mark T Barnes’s creation, and ever revelation or untying of the bow is marvelous. Every new iteration of species or machine is breath taking. He has an imagination the SFF genre certainly needs and needs now.

I cannot understand why very few have heard of him. Oh well. Their fault, though he did get nominated for the David Gemmel award for best debut.

Although he did have a few hiccups, those were smoothed over as time went along. The foggy beginning, his calling card, is largely eradicated. And the name drops of invented words are explained easily enough. Yes, there are a few head hops and perhaps not enough tension in the climax, but at least not everything goes according to plan. This book’ll hit you.

I spent my time savoring each word, each drop of philosophy soon rolling into a river of eurekas. Blinding flashes of vivid storytelling I cannot fully comprehend. Marvelous. The rough edges of his beginning have been washed away by both time and practice. To say I cannot wait for what comes next is an understatement. Because I sure do hope that my speculation is correct, and he’s setting something up for later with that ending. It was a doozy, and well worth the build-up.

But whatever does pop up on the horizon, I know it’ll be painted beautifully. He never fails in that regard.

“Hope and expectation are not the same thing, though both will lead to disappointment. Exist in the moment, accepting all things as they are, not as you would have them.”

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 8/10

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One thought on “The Pillars of Sand by Mark T Barnes

  1. Agreed, it was a good ending but at the same time arguably the weakest book in the entire trilogy. I’m looking forward to the start of the next trilogy, which will hopefully be available soon!

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