It’s been a while. Life has been…chaotic to say the least, but there is light on the horizon. And today I am delighted to be back with a very belated review for Remnant by Christopher Russell, the second book in the Divinity’s Twilight series.
You can find my review for book one Rebirth HERE.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Divinity’s Twilight: Remnant is the much-anticipated sequel to the multi-award-winning epic fantasy novel, Divinity’s Twilight: Rebirth.
Power is a curse.
As Vallen and his fellow cadets flee fallen Darmatia, he is forced to confront the ghosts of his past. The friend who perished that he might live. The girl whose smile haunts his nightmares. Now, a third voice joins them—something dark, something ancient. And the more Vallen uses his magic, the stronger it becomes.
Tools exist to be used.
The flames of Sylette’s vengeance are all but quenched. With each passing day, the dominion of the Sarconian Empire grows, and her treacherous father’s throat drifts further from her reach. Sylette’s last hope is a coded message, one that promises a growing resistance against the Empire. But even if she gains the means to avenge her mother’s murder, one question remains: how many ‘tools’ is she willing to sacrifice to see her vengeance through?
What color is love?
Renar has learned to hide a great many things: his emotions, his art, and one truly devastating family secret. But when he must face the man who’s controlled his life from the shadows, will he choose the family he’s always known, or the dysfunctional crew he’s been shackled with?
For every ending, a beginning.
Embers of conspiracy flare in Nemare and Sarconia. A resurrected Sarcon plots to reclaim his imprisoned flesh. As the winds of war swirl and forgotten myths rise, the choices these cadets make could save their country . . .
. . . or unleash something far, far worse.
“On distant shore, where mist a-abounds,
The god of wind and sea is found.
His jagged crest, worn and . . . pocked,
Is lined in shadow where none may dock.
Beneath the yet eternal flame,
The wooden trappings of mortals came,
And only where his light did shine,
could they avoid the def’s confine.
Stoic, stout, firm he stands,
Protecting all beneath his hands.”
And we’re back! Remnant was a book that I’ve been eagerly waiting for after really enjoying Rebirth, although I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting such a chonk as a follow up (but I am by no means complaining as that means more of this world and these characters). As always, there is a bonus point for the fact that this book has maps – and lovely ones at that and given the scale of this world and the way events play out, these are a fantastic inclusion. There is also ‘The Story Thus Far’ section at the back if you need to catch up with what has happened so far, and as the first book was action packed this was a great help, and there are also content warnings, a glossary and a Dramatis Personae as well – and I have to say I love that the author has shown so much attention to detail and in making that detail accessible. The love and care the author has for this book and series is evident throughout every aspect of the presentation and writing, and absolutely deserves acknowledgement.
Now, Remnant – big book though it is – had huge shoes to fill, because Rebirth was an incredibly strong debut and packed such a punch. However, with the excellent foundation and worldbuilding that had been established in the first book, and Russell’s ability to make every aspect of his world and writing sing, this chonky book was more than up to the task.
What really made Remnant work for me was that it confronted the consequences. I love stories that take up the threads of what had happened and explore all the various effects that has had on the characters, on the world and on the plot, and this book which picks up immediately in the aftermath of Rebirth does that and more. It also not only maintained the momentum from the first book but built on it and added to it – not an easy task when the first book dealt with the fall of Darmatia; and I think the main reason it achieved this is because of the character development that we get to enjoy in this book.
In my review of Rebirth, I said that there was room for further development of the characters, as a lot of that book had been focused on the action, and oh boy did Remnant deliver. Here, we got to really see Russell’s skill with characterisation shine, as Remnant not only deals with the present events and immediate impact from the events of book one on the characters we know, and a whole cast of new ones, but he also takes the time to dive into the past of our main characters. This exploration of the events and elements that made them the characters we see now, adds a whole new dimension to this book. Not, only does it give us as the reader more insight into how they came to be how we have seen them so far, and how they react to the situation and interact with one another, but it gives us ways to relate to them. The use of flashbacks can be risky, as it can affect the pacing, but here it works really well, although ‘idyllic days’ is not really true! But, that introspection, and exploration of their demons had me deeply invested in the characters throughout this book, which in turn plays into the action and the developing plot, because you become that much more caught up in the stakes because these are people you know and understand.
In terms of the characters, we are still mainly focusing on the same cast, and it was a pleasure to return to most of them – and even those that I don’t necessarily like as a person are compelling to read about, and this extends to the antagonists. Russell makes them human, even in the depth of cruelty and war, and through shades of grey to black; and that is what makes Remnant so strong because it would be easy in a world at war, with everything split and shattered to lose that focus, that humanity, but instead he has doubled down on it and that character focus gives this book so much soul and impact.
Vallen was one of my favourites from the first book and has firmly held onto that position in this book – even though he is also one of the characters that I don’t like as a ‘person’ and here is really where we see the impact of that delving into the character’s past. The insight we get into his childhood in Sewertown and the lengths he had to go to survive, as well as a friendship with someone called Elaine, and the grief and guilt he carries, casts so much of his personality in a different light. Sylette’s motivation has always been a lot more evident, and we saw the reasoning for that in the first book, and while her abrasiveness makes her difficult to read and for the characters to work with, she is possibly the character that I felt changed the most throughout Remnant as we saw her demons and sharp corners being softened.
‘As always, that imbecile Vallen strived to make her regret every scrap of armor she stripped from her heart.’
Jis Reey was another character that stole my heart, especially with how the book ended – and damn the author for being able to deliver such potent emotional blows; and really her story and her relationship with her Rodale is a potent reminder of the cost of fighting and war. Amongst the new characters, Mother Superior Tabitha is a standout, not just because of the role she plays as a healer and emotional support to those in resistance, but also as a representative of the faith, and it felt as though she bridged the gap between faith and magic in a world of war and science. It also felt like she was the embodiment of the ‘mother’ in her title, and I think that role, and the emotional weight it brought and just being a sounding board with wisdom for the younger members, was a steadying hand that this group needed. A rock in turbulent times.
“What little trust you place in our deities, Major Reev,” Mother Tabitha said as she hobbled toward them. Jis whispered a silent word of thanks the nun hadn’t called her Jisarivel in front of her worst student. “If yer faith were but da size o’ a tiny ferras grain, perhaps da Empire would already be vanquished.”
However, the character that really stole the show – and that I desperately want more of is also one of the darkest additions to Remnant. Crown Prince Vasuron, who we had glimpsed in the first book as a side character in Sylette’s adventures before her life fell apart, steps into the limelight in this book. Sarcon might be our principal antagonist, but Vasuron is something different. Russell has managed to create a character that is both charismatic and compelling in his own way, and incredibly, deeply unsettling at the same time; and I think what gripped me was that it was clear that we were being given an appetiser in Remnant as we given glimpses into his thoughts and scheming and motivations. It felt like we were dipping our toes in the edge of a very dark pool, with a lot more hidden beneath the surface and honestly – I cannot wait for the next book to see that taken further.
‘A grin split Vasuron’s soft lips. “And still the water’s surface remains unbroken. You are so much more than you say, General. When we meet again”—the prince’s dark gaze seemed to flood with pitch, growing into a chasm that swallowed Vier’s lies whole—“I plan to discover exactly what you’re hiding.”‘
Remnant is very much character-driven, but that isn’t to say that we don’t get to enjoy Russell’s ability to write gripping, cinematic action in Remnant. It’s just the scale that is different for the most part, as here we see more guerrilla fighting in occupied territory, which is yet another example of the thought and care given to making this world and conflict as realistic and grounded as possible. We saw the fall, and we know that the resistance are at a disadvantage in terms of numbers and resources, and we see the consequences of that play out in their approach to trying to disrupt the enemy forces. It also lets us see Russell flex his action scenes in a different way, but still maintains the excitement and cinematic aspects of the larger scale battles; and certainly added momentum to the story, and a feeling that everything was always on a knife edge, because what would be a small attack for the enemy could tie up far more for the resistance.
The action has also benefited from the care and time taken with the character development, because the stakes were raised by the fact that we know these characters now. We know them, and care about them and don’t want to see their stories cut short.
However, while some of the battles might have reduced in scale, the world and the impact of the war did not and one of my favourite aspects of this book is that it does explore that impact. Not just on the personal level, although we certainly get to see how it has affected not just our main characters, but the entire cast of secondary characters, and on all sides of the conflict. But, for the groups and peoples involved as well. That we get to see the different sides of the conflict adds a wonderful depth to the world and the story, and a richness to the world that Russell has created, because it demonstrates the myriad grey zones of war and how people view it and react to it, far more effectively than just following the protagonists or even the main antagonists would. It also gives us that scale, that context for everything else that is happening, and that backdrop and the idea that everything is happening against
I also liked that there was a consideration – without getting bogged down in it – of what the future could hold, not just for those fighting, but for the places being laid low and for the people and society that would be trying to survive in the aftermath.
‘Trees had been reduced to stumps. No grasses swayed atop the plains; only mud and clay remained. Even without looking, the Rittermarschal knew that their precious fields had been salted. No crops would grow here for decades, maybe longer.
This was the cost of war. Beiras’ wall of glimmering towers, resplendent in the morning sunlight, hid a darkness in their shadow, one that hugged its drab, factory-choked outskirts and pressed on toward the far horizon. Dust, Valescar realized. They’re kicking up plumes o’ dust as they evacuate the city.
And what then? After they made refugees of the whole population, did they plan to destroy the settlement? Set it back centuries just to deny resources to the enemy?’
Rebirth had felt a little predictable in places, but Remnant cast that aside. Yes, we see the consequences of previous events, and the expected fallout, but at the same time it felt like Remnant embraced the organic chaos of a world in conflict with different moving pieces, many of whom had their own motivations. There were twists and turns, new players joining the board – and surprises aplenty, all within the cohesive whole that is this fantastically realised world that Russell has created. What it gives us is a fluid, flowering story that does an excellent job of balancing action and character introspection, worldbuilding and emotional depth. The pacing is spot on throughout, with the bursts of action balanced with quieter moments, but with the plot constantly moving forward and pulling us along for the ride. While the prose, and emotional depth of this book are top notch, and Russell has certainly managed to wield emotion like a knife point in this one, and the heartache and grief and guilt, and the relief and moments of connection and love are beautifully brought to life.
Remnant was an incredibly strong sequel to Rebirth and has taken Russell’s writing and storycraft to a whole new level across the board. It was in this book that the characters really came to life for me, while it was a pleasure to dive back into the action which remains one of Russell’s greatest strengths; but what really struck me about this book was the emotion. This was a book that you felt in every part of your heart as you read it, and I loved it. This is a series that is going from strength to strength, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!
Christopher Russell (native of Williamsburg, VA) is a 29-year-old mechanical and aerospace engineer (graduate of the University of Virginia) who has loved reading since the day he picked up a book and writing since he could scrawl his first letters. After voraciously consuming titles from every genre—ranging from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings—he decided to combine the expertise from his professional education, passions, and Christian faith into a fantasy epic bridging the gap between magic and science. He currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his loyal dog, Vallen, named after the protagonist of his first work. For behind-the-scenes information on all of Christopher Russell’s works, visit christopherrussellauthor.com.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.