“The Last Seer King” by S.J. Hartland

S.J. Hartland
Dark Blade Publishing (2019)
ISBN 9780648437239
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/19)

“The Last Seer King” is the second book in the Shadow Sword series, an epic fantasy saga by S.J. Hartland. Having read the first book, “The 19th Bladesman,” earlier this year, I was thrilled to continue this journey. “The Last Seer King” exceeded all my expectations and is Hartland’s best work to date.

Archanin, an ancient ghoul-god escapes his imprisonment and sets out to take over the entire kingdom. There are many fated to battle against him. Roaran is an ancient king who will do whatever it takes to bring him down, but there is a powerful sorceress waiting to fulfill her own destiny, and that involves enslaving this king. Dannon is warlord to a vicious group of slavers who adopted him as a young boy – but he’ll always be an outsider, yearning for acceptance and a place to belong. Val Arques, formerly Vraymorg, Lord of the Mountains is a fallen warrior whose innermost secret could be the key to his destruction, and Kaell, a young bladesman set on a course of revenge, encounters challenges beyond reason. Each with their own agendas, many sacrifices will be made, but at what price? And will it be enough to save the kingdom?

Wow, where to start? The writing is superb – first rate all around. I love the author’s voice – it’s entertaining, sophisticated, and engaging.  At some points you cringe from the utter destruction, chaos and cruelty she devises – several moments raising the hairs on my arms!  At other times, Hartland is full of poetry, song, humor and sarcasm.  One humorous example that made me laugh out loud is from page 23:

Heath folded his arms. “What have you done?”
Judith drew her top lip over her bottom.  “It’s not what you think.”
“I think you’ve abducted this man.”
“All right.  It’s exactly what you think.”

This type of dialogue carries the reader effortlessly through the pages, and it’s the dialogue, whether witty as above, combative, or full of anguish, that drives you deep inside the characters psyches. And, though the fate of the realm revolves around bringing down Archanin the evil ghoul-god, he plays a somewhat small role in this installment of the saga. Hartland instead takes us on a rich journey into the souls of several characters plotting to take him down, revealing them layer by layer. These characters are delicious. The depth in which they are developed is phenomenal. One of the things I find most appealing about Hartland’s writing style is that she is unafraid to be “mean” to her characters and you never know just who is going to survive.  I lost a couple of my very favorite characters in “The Last Seer King” and found myself cursing Hartland outright – “WHAT – WHY”??? Just when you think you MIGHT know where she’s going, she throws in a totally unexpected twist, taking the plot (and the characters) in an entirely different direction and on a totally different life course.

Unless you are unfeeling and have no empathy, some of these life journeys are heartbreaking and will bring you to tears. The vulnerability a few of the characters exhibit throughout their experiences are raw and emotional.  Watching one of the character’s literally break down before my eyes was excruciating! Another one, who was subjected to “walking in another’s shoes,” sees life from a very different perspective. It was interesting to note this character’s evolution into a very different being. I have such a strong pull towards these characters, they are hard to talk about in generalizations – but I can’t give anything away!

Hartland’s Shadow Sword series is a saga that must be read in order. That sounds obvious, but it is also imperative to understanding the backstory and the intricate weave in which the characters navigate each other and the complex fantasy world. “The Last Seer King” is not a standalone book but a wonderful continuation of “The 19th Bladesman.” There is a map of this exquisite world in the front of the book, along with an outline of the characters located on the final pages. Bloodlines are key to this story and the listing of players within their family trees is an essential reference to aid comprehension of the full picture.

I highly recommend “The Last Seer King” by S.J. Hartland. In fact, do yourself a favor, pick up the entire Shadow Sword series to date.  It’s a must-read series for serious fantasy enthusiasts. After spending over 1,200 combined pages with these characters, I still thirst for more and was delighted to learn there are several more installments to come.  Thank you for another great adventure, S.J. Hartland.  Well done!

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