With the imminent arrival of his duel with Jai Long, Lindon’s journey to advance as a sacred artist and challenge himself is quickly overshadowed by a greater threat than the Jai clan exile. An event that has been built up since the climax of Volume 2 in the series is quickly thrust into the scenery as Skysworn focuses itself instead on laying the groundwork for subsequent books, all at the expense of the current one. It provides useful introductions to entities and figures of power central to the next books, but there is little in terms of actual story contained within its pages after the first third.
It’s somewhat disappointing to see Lindon’s long-awaited duel with Jai Long become the backdrop to the stirring of the Blood Phoenix, one of the Dreadgods, though it makes for a dramatic stage from which to compare the quarrels between the clans of the Blackflame Empire. The selfish actions of the Jai Patriarch bear fruit for them all to see following his narrow survival at the hands of Eithan at the end of Blackflame. The threat now looms over the entire Blackflame Empire. These events also begin to reveal aspects of Yerin’s mysterious past, the role the Sage of the Endless Sword played in her story, as well as shed light on her “unwelcome guest.”
The pacing of Skysworn surprised me, especially compared to the first books in the series. Obviously the duel between Lindon and Jai Long was highly anticipated and was a significant event for Lindon. It demonstrates the roles that Patriarchs of the clans play, as the duel is not just between two young men, but two men as members of prominent clans. Therefore, this duel has greater ramifications for many more people. This event has been building for multiple books, almost setting a precedent for bitter rivals, as well as a seemingly insurmountable goal for Lindon to face. And yet, he has fought and clawed his way to be able to face this duel, against all odds. So when it is overshadowed by a greater threat to the Blackflame Empire, an event that begins a cycle that is out of control of the main characters, it left me wanting more. It teases some aspects of Yerin’s backstory, though the impact and actual development of her story aren’t shown in the depth they deserve until several books later.
In Skysworn, more and more powerful creatures and individuals are introduced. This book sees Dreadgods named and somewhat explained, with mentions of their vast power and the power that flows from them into other powerful entities. Readers are also given a cursory introduction to the Akura Clan, a family so distant and powerful that they see the ruling of an empire like the Blackflame Empire as trivial, and not worth their own effort while they instead own it while their vassals rule. From individuals, champions, and factions, it feels as though each book in Cradle introduces more and more powerful entities to the world. The Abidan Court is at the edges, all-powerful and mighty in their own right. The series continues to up the ante, where in the first book Gold seemed legendary in their power, then we see Eithan as Underlord in Soulsmith, Blackflame reveals the power of dragons and has mentions of Overlords, and in Skysworn there are more than a few individuals and powers capable of demolishing someone as powerful as Eithan almost effortlessly. Of course Lindon’s goal is to attain immeasurable amounts of power in order to save his home from the threat he saw in Suriel’s vision, but the pacing and escalation seem almost absurd.
The main purpose of Skysworn is to provide more setup and worldbuilding, creating a stepping stone of sorts for the next arc in the series. The arrival of the Blood Phoenix creates a sense of an immense threat, exponentially more than the duel with Jai Long, one that the characters cannot face on their own. It brings into the narrative more powerful figures within the wider scope of Cradle, those who might aid the characters in their journey, or who could instead pose as great a threat as a Dreadgod. One such example of preparation for subsequent volumes is the namesake of the book, the introduction of the Skysworn, a powerful organization and faction of warriors within the Blackflame Emire. They serve a role in this story, but more than that, they are needed to introduce a plot point in the next book, which then turns into a necessary progression of events outside the control of the characters in order to reach the next stage… You get the point, rather than individuals or groups that have actual roles or parts to play regarding the characters, their development, or the greater story, they end up feeling like set pieces that are used to progress the story only to be discarded as soon as they are no longer relevant.
Where Blackflame is a turning point for the characters and the story of Cradle as a whole, Skysworn has all the setup for that but instead waits for it to appear in the next arc of the series. It gives a pseudo-conclusion to Lindon’s duel and rivalry with Jai Long, which I found not satisfying, and begins to lay some groundwork for where Lindon, Yerin, and Eithan are headed in the next stage of their journey. What could have been a solid and satisfying turning point story ends up feeling disjointed as it breaks harshly from the original arc, and falls flat as it tries to create a foundation that the next several books can stand on. As a story, Skysworn is certainly lacking, but overall it has its place within the series and plays its role well enough as a necessary part of the greater story.
Skysworn is written by Will Wight, and is published by Hidden Gnome Publishing.
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