This book is the third in the Academy Journals series. This review aims to avoid spoilers of previous volumes where possible, but does contain both explicit references and evidence to support further inferences.
With Isra, the rogue mindmage and murderer, apparently fled, Ebon and the rest of the Academy struggle to rebuild lives of study. However, the Dean’s son is still missing and dark deeds still plague the Seat. Ebon and his friends are certain Isra is involved; but with each search turning up no evidence of her presence, others (the Dean among them) wonder if Ebon’s insistence is a cover for his own guilt.
Readers of previous volumes in the Academy Journals series will find more of the same, turned up slightly: more magic; more moral dilemmas; more hints of a vast, vibrant world beyond the characters’ narrow focus.
As the third in a character-focused series filled with ongoing mysteries, this book might be less accessible to readers unfamiliar with the previous novels. However, Robinson continues his skilled balance of reprise and new plot, giving the reader enough to see events and choices as plausible if not to understand every nuance.
Where previous volumes were about paranoia and unfair distrust, this novel focuses more on committing one evil to avoid a greater. Having used proscribed magic at the end of the previous volume, Ebon and his friends are no longer ethically pure. Thus, while the specific accusations that they are involved in the Academy Killings are false, Xain’s suspicion that they have committed crimes are not.
Readers familiar with the Nightblade arc are likely to find especial depth in certain aspects and consequences of Ebon facing investigation from Xain for illegal magic.
This thread of magical crime is paralleled by a physical one. If Ebon doesn’t obey Mako, the hidden conspiracy might kill them both; but if he does, he (and his friends) risk being drawn deeper into a world of expediency and family loyalty.
In addition to this external tension of being both guilty and innocent, each of the friends is torn between doing what seems needed to uncover Isra, concealing past crimes but committing no more, and accepting the consequences of even those. As each character both has different perspectives and reacts differently to events, this produces a shifting web of recriminations and recommitments.
And, as the novel progresses, these threads weave tighter and tighter, leaving Ebon with only a choice between who he betrays, and who he risks.
Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking a fast-paced fantasy focused on character.
I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.