Review of ~ Mike Shackle – A Fool’s Hope (The Last War #2)

I received a review copy of A Fool’s Hope in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Mike Shackle and Gollancz.

A Fool’s Hope picks up events about a minute after the conclusion of We Are the Dead. Tinnstra and four-year-old Queen Zorique are on the deck of a ship in the Golden Channel seeking to escape to the shores of Meigore. Having been wracked with fear, with death and destruction seeming to follow the pair, they are at last hoping to receive refuge with Zorique’s uncle – the King of Meigore. Upon arrival, they are pinning their hopes on persuading the monarch to join the Jians in the war that they seem to be losing against the Egril. In A Fool’s Hope, the respite for these ladies doesn’t last long at all. In Shackle’s well-imagined and gritty dark fantasy world, things don’t go to plan very often.

A Fool's Hope

In the aftermath of the intense warfare fought throughout the city of Kiyosun, we rejoin young revolutionary Dren and former Shulka commander Jax. Both were tortured brutally by the Egril in the Council House and the war has had dramatic effects on them. The duo, who previously despised each other, are still trying to play their part to aid the resistance, but the conflict really is taking its toll on them. Physically and mentally respectively. In a similar fashion, Yas has changed greatly since the Egril invaded, still cares intently for her mother and son, and is dealing with the consequences of her actions from We Are the Dead. She is trying to survive and also assist in the war effort, albeit reluctantly with the latter initially.

There are four new point of view perspectives that join the narrative in addition to those mentioned above. Two are viewpoints from the enemies, the Egril. Those of new recruit “acorn” soldier, Mateon and of Francin, a high ranking Chosen of Kage who has some very unique skills. These two new players were fine characters giving extra insight into the Egril’s war effort. We see much more through these two characters’ eyes about the Egril’s conquests than we did through torturer Darus’ in We Are the Dead. Another perspective that I enjoyed following was that of the honourable and respected Meigorian sea captain Ralasis, who may or may not have a slight crush on Tinnstra. The final point of view I won’t go into much detail about, however much I’d like to, as it does approach spoiler territory. However, later in the novel when we start following them is a pleasant surprise, seems fitting, and really adds to the experience and drama of A Fool’s Hope‘s final third.

The point of view perspectives give a grand overview of the full happenings of the conflict. I enjoyed that I felt that I was getting to witness the whole picture. Some of the characters I had issues with at the beginning of the first book, I no longer have any qualms with at all. Dren’s character arc is particularly impressive to say how much of a bugbear I had with him during the first sections of We Are the Dead. One of my other minor pet peeves from the previous book was the number of times a chapter or section ended with the world exploding or, …and then everything went black. That still happens here but it didn’t gripe me whilst reading. Either I’ve gotten mellower in the last eighteen months or, in A Fool’s Hope, Shackle injects these moments less frequently and more deftly.

If Shackle was just finding his voice as an author in We Are the Dead, he has really excelled and polished his craft in the sequel. A Fool’s Hope knows precisely what sort of beast it wants to be from the very beginning and it doesn’t disappoint fans of The Last War who have been looking forward to this novel. The action and drama predominantly takes place in Kiyosun and Meigore, but we see brief yet important glimpses of other places in this crafted fantasy world such as Kagestan and Aisair.

If I had to describe A Fool’s Hope and this series in three words they would simply be War. Action. Drama. If I had to add a bit more detail then I’d go with: A Fool’s Hope is gritty, thrilling, with well-crafted and surprisingly likeable characters (for the most part), and it progresses the overall narrative in fine fashion. The endings are really well presented and have intrigued me greatly to see what will follow next. The Last War is a series that many more fans of grimdark and dark fantasy should check out and I’m glad that I’ve been following Shackle’s work since day one. 9/10.

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