Best last line, ever. I had to get that out first; it’s an important observation because the last line of this book perfectly illustrates the cyclical nature of the trilogy. The line serves as an explanation (even without the benefit of the epilogue), a conclusion and a beginning. The story is far from over, though the Dire Earth Cycle is definitely complete.
That is a rare thing in speculative fiction; to come upon a satisfactory conclusion. More usually, an end is simply a pause, a chance for the author and reader to take a breath before they launch into the next trilogy. No doubt, this is a pause, too. But the next chapter in this saga will be very different. James M. Hough will not return to tell the same story from a different point of view.
On to the book, itself. The Plague Forge is the last volume in the Dire Earth Cycle and everything is wheeling toward conclusion. The timetable is compressed, again, the window between visits from the Builders the smallest yet, and there seems more to do. Three keys are still to be found, mysteries unraveled and villains dealt with. No one pauses for breath, least of all the reader as the pages seemingly turn themselves.
The Builders and their intent have been a conundrum since the first book. The Plague Forge presents further puzzles to solve, including the purpose of the huge ship that arrived in The Exodus Towers, the meaning of the five keys and how to extract each one without dying and deliver it to the ship before the final event.
There are complications, of course, and finally, there are answers.
Last book, I had high hopes for a few characters. I wanted to see more of Vanessa and Hough delivered. Samantha continues to own the action and Tania grows a pair. Grillo is as vicious as ever; he’s the villain you love to hate. Two surprises emerge. Blackfield will never not be an ass, but we see another side of him. Prumble proves that size doesn’t matter or does, depending on your perspective. He’s the unlikeliest of heroes and now one of my favourite characters. Skyler battles on, still carried by events. He’s the guy who does what needs to be done, yet he still feels very human. If Hough writes the next chapter in his story, I’d like to see a version of Skyler who realises his potential, takes charge and directs the action.
The Dire Earth Cycle is a great trilogy. Action-packed with good, solid characters, an interesting setting and a plot that continues to evolve. It’s an awesome accomplishment for a new author. I think the publishers made the right decision in releasing each volume only one month apart instead of making readers wait a year or more between beginning and conclusion. The story doesn’t lose momentum and the trilogy becomes a solid unit. I’d love to see more quick releases like this. I’d also love to see more from Jason M. Hough.
Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.