Taking the Bitter with the Sweet: Rachel Caine’s “Sword and Pen”

by Sharon Tucker

Details on how to win a copy of the book, and links to purchase it, at the end of this review.

The best endings resonate because they echo a word, phrase, or image from earlier in the story, and the reader is prompted to think back to that reference and speculate on a deeper meaning. — James Plath

There are quite a few last volumes of favorite series I haven’t yet read. I’m bad about that. So I have hesitated a while before picking up the last volume of Rachel Caine’s Great Library series Sword and Pen (2019), most obviously for the reason that I didn’t want the series to end. Open endings have become my favorite when I used to hate them. Therefore, it’s been taxing to even start this final Great Library book Sword and Pen, not least because I’m pretty depleted by the ending of the fourth season of SyFy Channel’s The Magicians, but mainly because I often lack confidence in the ability of even authors I admire to conclude their series satisfactorily. It’s an art, bringing a story to an appropriate and satisfying end.

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Image Source Berkley
However, it’s with pleasure that I say Sword and Pen works very well for me. I cautiously read the first chapters (and Ephemera) with understandable dread but found as I read on that it was so good to be with the group of students we began this journey with Ink and Bone (2015). It was even better to see how much they had learned and matured, slipping into the professions they were suited to and had intensely trained for in the earlier novels.

Naturally we begin with Garda soldier Jess Brightwell, shocked and grieving for the loss of family at the end of Smoke and Iron (2018) and in the care of his mentor Scholar Christopher Wolfe as we begin this last adventure. Very soon, we learn that Santi has an especial genius for ensuring the students’ safety. We knew the arch villain Archivist had been deposed and another elected (You will love the symmetry of the new archivist’s name BTW.) but the evil former Archivist is still very alive and active enlisting whomever he can to regain the power to wreak revenge on disloyal minions to regain power. It’s good to find Dario is still his most egotistical, preening self, and that Khalila’s genius finds it’s own level—I was worried about that. As we begin here, Glain is a lieutenant in the Garda, never mind that she may not keep the rank for long—too outspoken and independent for that. In contrast, for such a gentle and unassuming person, it’s amazing the contraptions and weapons Thomas continues to create—SO useful, especially in this volume. In addition, Morgan’s power, always trammeled, is released.

Know going in that if you’ve feared losing too many of this group, we don’t, but that isn’t to say we lose no one (hints not spoilers). What I can say is that the stakes are still very high, and the momentum rarely lets up. There are battles and creatures; Wolfe’s students are still putting gray in his hair, and it is intriguing that Wolfe and Santi are the best parents their students could have had. In Sword and Pen, the blend of light and dark just works, and it’s emotionally satisfying to the extent that I think I’ll re-read them again. Reading this last volume pulled me back into the ones before, revealed satisfying connections, and made this five-book journey so rewarding. Rachel Caine has done us proud.

To enter to win a copy of Sword and Pen, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "sword,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 4, 2020. US entries only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you enter via comment email please include your mailing address in case you win (we will not keep that information after the contest ends) You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

You can find more fantasy reviews in out Fantasy and Fangs section.

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Sharon Tucker is former faculty at the University of Memphis in Memphis TN, and now enjoys evening supervising in that campus library. Having forsworn TV except for online viewing and her own movies, she reads an average of 3 to 4 books per week and has her first novel---a mystery, of course---well underway.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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