Today I am delighted to be reviewing Travels in the Dark by Jordan Loyal Short, the third and final book in the Dreadbound Ode which is out the world TODAY!
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Lyssa is going to the Dead Place and everyone she killed will be waiting.
As the Hidden One’s twisted plan to resurrect the Deep Gods unfolds, the only way to stop him is a secret buried in the land of death.
But Lyssa has not given up. If the Deep Gods can return, so can she.
Can Lyssa find a way back? Can she delve into hell’s darkest corners and emerge with the lore to stop the Deep Gods’ rise? Or will she become a lost soul, like so many of those she loved in life?
Ancient horrors will wake. Skalds will sing. And a blind seer will see the shadows gather.
Lyssa Pedersten has tasted poison, and hell had best beware.
I was always going to be excited for this final instalment of the Dreadbound Ode series, but Jordan Loyal Short has well and truly raised the bar here. Travels in the Dark still treads that boundary of science-fantasy, but in this one, it has leaned much more into the fantastic – and it absolutely fantastic, and deliciously dark.
I have always been in awe of the author’s worldbuilding in this series, but it feels as though it was lifted to another level in this one. We still have that wonderful balancing of the sci-fi and fantasy elements, and the different lands and beliefs, and the magic. Here all of that is brought to a crescendo, but it is the exploration of the Dead Place, the afterlife that really shines. I absolutely adore how this was portrayed in this book, the layers upon layers of twists and turns, and how reality shifts and changes from moment to moment. It takes everything you could possibly imagine about an afterlife, the good – peaceful moments, memories – and the bad, the darkness, the dread, the feeling of being doomed and brings it vividly to life, and without a doubt the chapters in the Dead Place were my favourites in this one.
Lyssa really stole the show for me in this one, perhaps because her journey was within the Dead Place, but mostly because she starts the story by dying and finding herself in the afterlife. This is no peaceful ending, but rather the start of an arc of facing the past, through memories and regrets, and trying to escape and reclaim her life – or the life she should have lived. I love Lyssa’s determination to survive, to surmount the odds, and the introspection we get over how her life and dreams panned out, and how she had treated Brohr. It’s a deeply personal journey, with far-reaching consequences and a role to play determined by fate.
‘It had not been snuffed out. She had not been snuffed out. This place had not yet caged her. There was a way back. If anyone could find a way out, it was Lyssa.’
Brohr was such a compelling character in this book. In some ways his path mirrored Lyssa because his goals were more personal – he wanted to find her, to bring her back, at any cost – but still with far-reaching consequences. However, Brohr was also the darkness in this story. Lyssa caused chaos and risked worse in her determination. Brohr went further, stepped into the dark and risked stepping deeper, and I really enjoyed his struggle to establish a boundary, a point that he wouldn’t step beyond. His desires, his goals, were always deeply selfish, but it’s interesting that he embraced his shame, and remained incredibly self-aware, even as there were so many crossroads and decisions where you honestly couldn’t tell where he would turn.
‘This dark and no darker, he had promised himself. Always one step further, one more black deed. He had traded one master for another, one darkness for another, always lured by hollow assurances. He told himself it was for Lyssa. Told himself it was for his people. But truthfully, it was for him.’
Henrik has always been one of my favourites, and his arc here was perhaps the most complicated. He is in a strange situation where things have improved but also become more challenging in many ways – chosen to be a Prophet of a God-being he didn’t believe in, and caught in a web of machinations based on faith, or rather the betrayal of it. Fate and being chosen for a role is always interesting, and I love how that plays out here and the path that it leads Henrik along. Again we get to see a character wrestling with their actions – especially questionable ones, in this case, the binding of a child’s soul – and how they need it to achieve their goals. Here though we have a character who is more focused on the further-reaching consequences of his actions and those of the people around him, than his own personal goals.
‘Not for the first time, Henrik wished he could trade all his newfound power for a chance to return home. But it was just an idle daydream. His home was utterly gone.’
This is an incredibly character-driven story. Yes, fate and the Gods play a role in everything (which is something I love), but the characters steal the show, and this includes the wider cast. Ashana was a particular favourite, as was Tor’s three young daughters. It heightened the stakes across the board because, despite the God-beings and the various threats of the Dead Place, it was an incredibly human story – human weakness and desire, human courage and determination, and cowardice.
This was one of those books that I simply couldn’t put down. There were so many moving parts, twists and turns, secrets and lies, and even in the quiet moments, the tension, the feeling of being pulled towards the climax was palpable. I particularly loved that while the three main POVs intersected at various points before eventually coming together, events were unfolding independently, and it made it immensely readable because it leaves you wanting to know what will happen, how it will play out, how actions we see in one POV will impact or be impacted by the others. A truly skilful weaving of POVs and storylines, in a setting of epic proportions and the author brings it together in a breath-taking climax that had me on the edge of my seat. The individual endings for the main characters were incredibly satisfying, and I particularly loved the very last bit of the book – both in terms of what it meant for Lyssa, and because it felt the perfect send-off for this story.
Travels in the Dark is a stunning finale for the Dreadbound Ode series. I honestly can’t recommend this book and series strongly enough, it ticks all the boxes for me and if you enjoy science-fantasy with a healthy splash of darkness, combined with fantastic characters and emotional storylines that give you more than one gut-punch then you should be picking this one up.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.