Today I am over the moon to be reviewing Sins of the Mother by Rob J. Hayes. I love The War Eternal series, and Sins of the Mother has taken it to new heights. I have remained as spoiler free as I could manage, although in the future I may return as there are so many things I want to gush (and shout) about in this book – but in summary I LOVED THIS BOOK.
You can read my reviews of the earlier books here:
Along the Razor’s Edge | The Lessons Never Learned | From Cold Ashes Risen
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
In her darklight the world will burn.
Eskara Helsene is missing. She left her queendom, her friends, her children, even her own name behind. No one has seen the Corpse Queen for a decade.
Someone is murdering Sourcerers, forcing them to reject their magic and opening scars in reality, and monsters from the Other World are pouring through.
When an old acquaintance turns up out of the blue, Eska has no choice but to investigate the murders and the holes in reality. Can she stop the killer before the entire world is consumed? And will the conflict reveal her true nature?
“I’m ready.” A lie, though spoken with the best of intents. We are never ready for the big events in our lives, and anyone who says differently is either a fool or a charlatan. The big events and truly momentous occasions sneak up on us like assassins in the night. You might plan and prepare, even steel yourself for the pain you know is to come, but you can never really be ready.
At some point, I had apparently got it into my head that The War Eternal was just a trilogy (although the first three do have an arc of their own), and I have never been so delighted to be proved wrong. I fell in love with this series from the moment I picked up Along the Razor’s Edge, to the point where I wait up until midnight for the next book to be released on kindle so I can read it right away regardless of whatever else I am reading at the time. So the chance to read Sins of the Mother early was the best thing in the world (and I will still be there at midnight on the 3rd of May to read it again).
Sins of the Mother is everything I wanted and more as a return to this series, and a return to one of the most memorable main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
I had just finished a reread of the series in preparation for book four coming out next month, but I believe without a doubt that even without the world and Eska’s voice being close to the surface, I would have immediately been pulled back into the series from the start of book four – especially with the prologue. It utilizes one of the aspects of this series that I’ve always enjoyed, and that is Eska as the narrator looking back over her life, referencing things that have happened or events that we have yet to read about, and Sins of the Mother immediately draws us back into that. However, this is also where we get to see some of that unfolding in ‘real-time’ as it were, and you could feel the various threads coming together – but don’t be fooled – even if you think you know what is going on, and how things will unfold, this book will surprise you. I know my jaw dropped on more than one occasion while reading this one, and I loved it.
Eska has always been a character I’ve loved, even when she’s driven me almost to distraction with her attitude and decisions – she is a divisive character even amongst her own people, but for me at least Hayes has balanced that divisiveness with a compelling voice that makes her a truly standout character. Sins of the Mother sees us return to Eska, but two decades after the events of the last book – and that changes things because this is an Eska softened and hardened by motherhood, by managing to live in peace (of sorts) for a time, and who arguably is the most settled in her own skin and concept of who and what she is that she has been throughout the series. It doesn’t mean that she has lost all the sharp edges. The stubbornness and impulsiveness and rage that has always been a part of her character are still there, as is the brutal honesty about her own actions and emotions. You have to respect her for the fact that she does not shy away from confronting the blame that rests either solely or partially at her feet.
There’s one scene, in particular, that had me smiling and going ‘ah yes, this is Eska’. Eska has grown so much throughout the series, and it has been fascinating to watch, but here in this book, the shift has added a fresh richness to her character and her voice, especially with the balance between the life she has lived, and the physical age that has been forced on her body through magic and how that impacts on her life now. The War Eternal has always been a series that confronts the consequences of the characters actions, whether small and personal, or grand and potentially world ending, and I can think of no finer example of that than how Eska is in this book.
It’s a shift in gears that works spectacularly well.
We also get to see some other familiar faces – and some surprising ones – and that feeling of growth and time passing is there as well (and it will be a while before I recover from what happened to one of them). We also got a cast of new characters, both in the present and in the flashbacks, each one adding to the world and to Eska’s story. I particularly enjoyed getting to meet Eska’s children and seeing how her journey was reflected in them and their actions – although there was one thread relating to this that I desperately want to know more about, especially as it is one that I can imagine coming back to bite Eska in the ass (even more than the ones in this book). Hayes’ character work has been fantastic in every book of his that I’ve read, his use of character voice is stunning, as his ability to explore so many emotional aspects and varying dynamics, from friends to enemies and family, and everything in between.
The characters and Eska in particular do steal the show to a certain extent, but the worldbuilding has always been one of my favourite elements of The War Eternal, and I am endlessly fascinated by the magic system. What Sourcery is capable of, and how it has been used – and developed – has grown over the series, and has been equal parts fascinating and horrifying and that was true here in Sins of the Mother too, and there was an interesting element of history repeating itself as Eska passed on her knowledge. I’ve always liked that there was a cost to the magic in this world – and we see that poignantly in this book, through Eska’s premature ageing, to the impact her magic had on her children, to the damage inflicted on the world itself through forced rejection.
As with Eska’s story, we get to see threads of the worldbuilding coming together in Sins of the Mother, even as we got to see and learn more about this world, as well as revisiting familiar locations sometimes with fresh eyes, sometimes with old baggage. Karataan was a favourite location, it was just such a rich city – in terms of setting and the story elements that were tied to it, and it was just such a vivid, colourful place that I would have happily spent longer there. Again, we have the interplay of past and present, as we got to learn more about how this world developed and the relationship between the Djinn and Rand, and how that has influenced what is happening in the present, and what might happen in the future.
Even as we see threads coming together, and elements that have been hinted at before coming into clarity, there was a real sense of mystery and rising tension throughout Sins of the Mother. As I said above, I sat there open-mouthed on more than one occasion, but each revelation in many ways only added to that tension, because it highlighted the need to expect the unexpected. There was a skillful balance of past and present, not just through Eska’s narration, but through parts that were set in the past – especially during the timeskip that has occured between From Cold Ashes Risen. Sometimes that bouncing between timelines can reduce the tension, but not here because Hayes wove details and clues throughout both that are integral to the unfolding events. Honestly, to keep that tension right up towards the end is a work of art in and of itself, and the climax – which I will not spoil because oh boy do you need to experience that moment for yourself – not only brought that to an edge of the seat, jaw-dropping crescendo but left tantalising hints for what is to come.
Sins of the Mother has taken The War Eternal in a new direction, and has done so in spectacular fashion and has left me on the edge of my seat waiting to see how things will play out in the final book. This series and Hayes’ writing are constantly going from strength to strength, and I honestly cannot recommend The War Eternal strongly enough. All I can say is that now is the perfect time to get into this series, and there’s enough time to devour the first three before the Sins of the Mother comes out – and why not preorder that one while you’re at it?
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.