Ohhhhh boy, here we go. I think I’ve probably talked about Katy Rose Pool’s The Age of Darkness trilogy at least once a week for the entirety of 2021? I don’t think it’ll get any better after the finale has released, either. I think we’re in it for the long haul, folks. This trilogy is easily one of my favorite series I’ve ever read, and I honest to Satan think about it all the damn time. In honor of the finale coming out in September, I thought the best possible thing to do would be to reread and review them! I’ve already given these books small reviews, but, for the amount that I talk about them in the wild, it’s high time we finally sat down and talked about just why I love this trilogy so much.
I’m going to split it up by parts because I get so hooked into the story that I can’t seem to remember to take notes while I’m reading, so I’ll pause at the end of each part and review my thoughts then.
Also, there are going to be spoilers in here. I’m not even going to pretend that I can write this without doing it. This is mostly just me fangirling, and I need to talk about all the things.
If I didn’t start this by talking about how much I truly adore these characters, I’d be lying to all of us. Truthfully, I’m a huge character-driven reader, and though I’ll get hooked big time by world-building and an intricate plot, literally everything else could fall apart, but if it had good characters, I’d be happy. And these characters? My goodness. There’s not a single one of them that I don’t wholeheartedly love, and for such different reasons, too!
Hassan is such a typical YA character that everyone falls on polarizing sides about because he’s stubborn and sweet and determined to help his people, but he’s also self-righteous and lies to get his way and causes a lot of harm in trying to do the right thing. His character arc from believing he truly is the chosen one and deserves to be to realizing he has not earned the respect or the trust that people have so blindly given him and understands that he needs to work hard to actually be the prince his people deserves is so good. And I love the way that Pool works through this character arc because, when we first meet Hassan, he’s not yet the snobbish holier than thou prince that he becomes in the second part of the story because he still doesn’t believe in himself. But the second that someone tells him he’s worth believing in, his true colors shine through, and he becomes almost immediately unlikeable. And it’s such a bold move, to give us this adorable, bumbling prince in exile that just wants to help his people and turn him into someone who’s willing to lie to the Prophets just to get his city the help it needs. As I’m typing this out, I’m realizing it echoes the Aladdin story pretty closely, and wow. I’m even more in love.
In the moonlit room overlooking the City of Faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.
Y’all. I can so clearly remember reading this opening line for the first time a few years ago and just HOLLERING with delight. This is my jam. This is the kind of opening line I live for–priests in danger, a badass woman threatening, and gorgeous writing. Give it to me! And Ephyra really does live up to this first line. Truly, all of Pool’s characters have such a powerful level of duality because while I really get Ephyra and understand why she is the way she is, she also frustrates the hell out of me. The decisions she makes are ones that I can get behind and reason out, but the way she reacts to Beru questioning those decisions makes me want to throttle her. Dude! Just tell your sister you love her and you’ll do anything to keep her alive, no matter what it does to you, but also listen to her! Let her respond to that scary depth of love! Communication is healthy! And though Beru definitely becomes more of a main character than Ephyra as the book progresses, Ephyra still holds her own, and she has such a solid foundation in the beginning that she continues to be one of my favorite characters well into the second book.
Okay, here we are for real, talking about Jude and Anton. Obviously, Anton is my favorite character, and we all know why. He’s a soft boy who can’t access his Graced power because he’s too plagued by nightmares, he has frequent panic attacks and is riddled with anxiety at all times, he’s a chaotic bi mess, and he would really just like to take a nap and say no thanks to the whole world. Like?? Read this for Anton alone, he’s such a treasure. I love this boy, and I will protect him with my life, except I don’t have to because Jude already is. Which is getting ahead of ourselves since they haven’t met yet in the first part, but ugh, it’s so good. We get our first hint that Anton might be the Last Prophet toward the end of the part, when he’s drawn to Jude’s esha when the Order of the Light dock in the City of Faith, and though it’s very subtle, and there’s no way you’d see it unless you were rereading, it just makes me so excited for what’s to come.
And Jude, oh my poor sweet gay boy. There’s a question on Goodreads about the queer rep in this, and someone’s response is basically just “you find out pretty immediately that Jude is hella gay”, and it’s great and so true. Jude’s entire existence in becoming the Keeper of the Word is called into question because he’s so clearly in love with his best friend, and it’s just delightful. And not only do we get to watch him struggle with his feelings for Hector constantly, but there’s so much coming up with Anton, who flouts his sexuality all over the place and definitely wants to make out with Jude 75% of the time. Outside of Jude’s gay panic, though, I just love his character. He’s noble, so uncertain, and terrified of messing up, but so determined to do his absolute best not to mess up at the same time. He believes so profoundly in his purpose in life, and when that purpose is called into question, over and over, Jude keeps fighting to the surface, refusing to do anything less than holding strong to his faith.
All of these characters are so distinctly different from one another in a way that I really love in ensemble casts, and I’m so excited for them to start coming together as the story progresses.
We really start cracking into the world in the second part, and the plot is finally starting to take on a much larger, and much more chaotic, shape. I love that we end this part with discovering that the build-up of the entire first half of the book is just complete and utter bullshit, and it’s done in such a neat way. Because of course we believe that Hassan is the Prophet–why wouldn’t we? All of the evidence points toward that making the most sense, and Pool even presents us with someone who questions the evidence. It’s almost as though, when Aunt Lethia finally agrees that Hassan might actually be the Last Prophet, that okay, we can set aside our own doubts, full steam ahead.
And then just nah. Straight up nah. There’s such an interesting shift coming to Hassan’s character arc in the third part that I can’t wait to get into, and it’s one of the things that makes him such an unreliable, but very satisfying character. There’s so little that we can actually trust about Hassan because he’s just the definition of the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and while I want to support him at every turn, he’s just riddled with lies and self-motivating endeavors. He wants to save his people and bring justice to his city, but the cost at which he does these things is by destroying so much else and leaving chaos in his wake. And it begins here in the second part, when we slowly start to discover that Hassan might not actually be the Last Prophet.
I love it, too, because even when we come to that realization at the end of the part, Pool has been pointing at Anton the entire time. Whether it’s his reaction to Jude’s esha, or it’s the way Jude feels drawn to protecting Anton–my goodness, but the first time Jude draws the Pinnacle Blade, which is supposed to be this moment of grandeur because it’s only ever supposed to be drawn to protect the Last Prophet, so of course it’s done to save Anton–Pool is constantly pointing us in the right direction while steering us in the wrong one.
And that, I think, is one of the reasons that I love this series so much. So many books falter when it comes to the middle book because they’ve setup a two-book plot that suddenly needs to be stretched out in the middle, but Pool has carefully crafted a narrative that’s meant to be pulled easily over three books. We don’t meet the Last Prophet right away because that would be giving too much of the story away right from the start, but we do meet a false Prophet because that fits in with the world-building she’s already done so well. There’s so much doubt in all of these characters that to see that doubt echoed back in the story, as well, just elevates all of it even higher. And that doubt is echoed in so many intricate ways–Jude’s allegiance not only to the Order of the Last Light, but to the Prophet he believes in; Ephyra’s allegiance to her sister, which is beginning to waver as Beru pulls farther and farther away from her; and Anton’s allegiance to himself as he starts to question everything that’s happened in his past and whether or not it may all be a lie. These seeds of doubt are sown even as the one character we should be wary of the most is building a powerful story upon a foundation of lies.
Ugh, it’s just masterful! The way that Pool has taken these characters and made them beloved so fast–Jude calling Anton the peat-eyed boy will forever be the end of me #enemiestobestfriendstolovers–and woven them into a complex and captivating story that makes each of these betrayals sting so much, and we’re not even done with the first book. I can’t. I’m so, so excited for the third part because I know all the destruction and angst and wonderful chaos that is coming.
And here, at last, we come to the end. And what an end it is! I love that Pool creates this prophecy at the beginning of the book, wielding the story of the Order of the Last Light and all that is to come with so much confidence and promise, and then she just shatters it throughout the second part. And what a perfect way to do that because of course the prophecy is not fulfilled right away. Not only would that be too easy, but it wouldn’t make sense in a story as large as this one. But it’s not just that she shows the false fulfillment of it in the second part, but that we don’t actually get the full scope of it until the third part, and, even then, until the end. Truly, we don’t even get the fulfillment of the prophecy at the end because all we see are bits and pieces of what Anton’s seen, and we don’t know how any of those connect to everything yet. There’s so much chaos threaded through the third part, and it’s done in such a way that it’s impossible not to need another two books. Pool has set herself up perfectly for needing a middle book to bridge this trilogy because there’s so much stage setting & world building that needs to happen. Realistically, we’ve seen so little of this world in the first book that it only makes sense that it’s going to expand and get even wilder in a second book.
There’s so much that happens in this part, too. We’ve really been on a rollercoaster with Hassan, and his character arc is beautiful in this third part. From believing he might be the Prophet and the savior of Herat in the form of its lost prince to realizing he definitely lied to everyone and is actually one of the harbingers of the Age of Darkness to the very end, where he’s fully come into his own as the prince of Herat and the leader that his people needs, Hassan’s character arc is truly a work of art. He’s unlikable, but trying so hard to be likable, and it’s definitely going to take until about midway into book two before we really start to like him, but, obviously, I already do. I love getting to see him transform through these different roles until he’s finally realizing he’s messed up and needs to really kick it into high gear. The ending here with Hassan is just excellent, and I’m so excited to see what’s next for him.
Ephyra & Beru definitely take a backseat toward the end of this book because we’re so focused on the arc of the false Prophet and the actual Last Prophet, but oh boy, have we got some craziness coming for them in the second book. Their parting at the end of the first one is so dead on because of course they’ve got to be at odds by the end. After everything that they’ve gone through throughout the first book, it would make no sense for them to still be on solid footing by the end. Right from the beginning, Beru has been uncomfortable with the way that they’ve been living, and it’s just worsened throughout the book until, by the end, they’re on completely different pages from each other. And we know that this is going to happen, too, because when Ephyra kills Hector–stay tuned–to revive Beru, we know exactly how Beru is going to react to this. If this book was meant to be a duology, Beru 100% would have died at the end of this book, and Ephyra would likely be one of the villains in the second book that Anton & Jude would then have to go up against while trying to stop the Age of Darkness. But Pool has set herself up for a really well-developed trilogy in allowing Ephyra to go that extra step they’ve always avoided, thus putting her & Beru on completely different paths that are going to diverge and come together constantly throughout the second book until we really hit the climax of chaos at the end of the second book.
And we all know I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also sigh loudly over my soft boys. Anton at the end is truly just so much yes for me. He’s been just torn to absolute shreds by his brother, and the haunting way that he acts in the very last chapters had me screaming. That boy is broken, and the way that everyone treats him like shattered glass is so perfect, especially because his reaction to it is essentially lol same. He knows he’s gone off the deep end, and he’s so far gone that he grasps onto Jude & the Order because it’s the only way he’s going to survive. Otherwise, he’s either throwing himself off a cliff or diving into the Godfire flame, and I just love the way Pool handles both his and Jude’s character at the end. The doubt that she allows Jude to feel, and the certainty that he should be feeling that doubt in order to properly protect the Last Prophet is just–UGH YES. Because you have to be human in order to protect someone truthfully because you need to be able to look at that person with a human eye in order to understand what they truly need. I just love these two, okay, and I love their arc at the end together, of Jude just being like of course it’s you and Anton being like oh thank heck get me out of here, and neither of them are pissed that it’s each other because they’ve known all along, even if subconsciously, and it makes so much sense that fall together so easily.
Anyway, I could literally go on for paragraphs and paragraphs more, but this review is so long, and I’m going to devolve into nonsense pretty soon, so we’re going to wrap it up here! Stay tuned for the 22nd when we chat As the Shadow Rises, which, obviously, is one of my favorite examples of a perfect middle book.