Review: The Tainted Realm: Rebellion

Among the many aspects of my life to disrupted by recent Real Life issues is my reading, but I have finally gotten around to picking up and finishing the second installment of Ian Irvine’s The Tainted Realm trilogy, Rebellion.

Fair warning: This review will contain spoilers for the first book of the series.

Cover art for "The Tainted Realm, book two: Rebellion" by Ian IrvineYou may recall my feelings on the previous book, Vengeance, were decidely mixed, despite my idolatry of Ian Irvine.

Certainly, it had a lot going for it: a strong cast of complex and compelling, if slightly cliche, characters; a detailed and imaginative setting; and no shortage of action, drama, and emotion.

But it was a grindingly dark book. Irvine’s always written very intense and brutal stories, and that’s part of what I respect about him, but balance is important in an epic story. What separates a good book from a great one is its ability to include little moments of positivity to break the monotony of the darker moments.

Vengeance didn’t have this. It was just and endless spree of tragedy, defeat, and mortal peril. There was never a chance to catch your breath as a reader. It somewhat marred what was otherwise an excellent book.

But Rebellion, I am glad to say, turns this around somewhat. It’s still a very dark and intense book, but it’s not entirely one-sided.

In true Ian Irvine fashion, the book begins with every character seemingly doomed. Tali has been abducted by the chancellor of Hightspall, who intends to milk her of her healing blood. Tobry has been forced to live his worst nightmare, becoming a monstrous were-cat creature, and has been consigned to death for it. Rix has been disgraced, crippled, and left for dead.

Meanwhile, Hightspall as a nation has been all but been crushed by the blitzkrieg assaults of the Cythonians.

The story hits the ground running, and rarely lets up. I’m always amazed by Ian Irvine’s ability to write massive, six hundred page epics and yet not waste a single word. Rebellion is a page-turner of the highest order, and it is every bit as intense as I’ve come to expect from Irvine.

But this time, there is some relief from the constant danger and heartache afflicting the characters. Little moments of peace and reflection are scattered throughout the book, giving the characters — and, by extension, the reader — a chance to recuperate. There aren’t a lot of these moments, but there are enough.

I also enjoyed the characters more this time. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m used to them, or if their growth made them feel a little less cliched, or what, but they felt more real to me, and I enjoyed all of their stories.

In particular, I found Rix’s arc through this book very compelling. I wasn’t necessarily his biggest fan in the last book, but he stole the show this time around. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the events of Rebellion convinced me that he is a true hero, whatever he may think of himself.

A map of central Hightspall, the setting of Ian Irvine's "The Tainted Realm" trilogyThe strength of the characters is important, because — like Irvine’s other works — this isn’t really a battle of good versus evil. The Hightspallers and Cythonians both have righteous reasons for their actions, but both can be utterly cruel in pursuing their aims.

This means there aren’t any “good guys” to cheer for, but that doesn’t matter, because the individual characters provide someone to care about. I might wish both the Hightspallers and Cythonians would jump off a cliff, but I’m invested in Tali, Rix, and the others. I want them to succeed.

That’s not to say Rebellion is completely without flaws. I found the plot lacked flow in places, especially in the latter half. It seems to move too quickly and jump around in time a tad too much near the end, and it left me wondering if this series should have been a quartet rather than a trilogy.

He also didn’t seem to have much of a plan for Rannilt’s character this time around. She just sort of appears and disappears at random intervals while rarely contributing to the plot in any meaningful way, and the one new arc with her was largely abandoned early on. I suspect it’ll be addressed in the next book, but for now, it’s a distracting loose end.

Rannilt was one of my favourite characters in the first book, so this disappointed me.

Still, these are minor complaints. Rebellion is an excellent book on the whole, and it’s greatly improved my opinion of this series.

Overall rating: 9/10 This is the Ian Irvine I know and love.

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