The Circle of Stone: The Darkest Age III by A.J. Lake

When we last left Elspeth and Edmund they were traveling into the mountain to attempt to destroy the trickster god Loki with the crystal sword.  I suppose it is a spoiler of a kind (but if you a reading a review of the third book you have to kinda suspect this) to say that they failed in that mission.

Instead, some treachery lead to Loki’s escape and wreaking of havoc on the world.  The whole gang is forced to flee and re-evaluate just how they can destroy the monster before he destroys them and burns everything to the ground.

The last book in the Darkest Age trilogy, The Circle of Stone,  finds them continuing on their quest and things are as bleak as they have ever been (and that is pretty bad in a series called The Darkest Age).

Despite temptations to go their different ways the group commits to sticking together.  With the hope that Ioneth, the spirit behind the sword, is still there (although very faintly) Elspeth is determined to somehow find Loki and destroy him.  But they have little luck finding anything but fire and destruction.  Loki has split himself up and is as elusive as ever.  Outside of the fires the only trace them seem to find of him is the growing cult of the Burning Man.

The challenge for Lake in this concluding book was to wrap up the story while at the same time keeping the reader guessing and provide an entertaining conclusion.  In this she succeeds.  The Stone Circle has plenty of twists and turns and ends with a powerful conclusion.

The focus in many ways remains on Edmund and Elspeth as it has throughout the series.  The story is about their quest and about their friendship.  With strong male and female characters, Lake continues to weave these two elements into a great story.

Every time the story is just about to bog down with the mundane nature of the quest (traveling, interacting with strangers, finding food and a place to camp, etc.) Lake throws in a twist.  There are some dramatic turns dealing with both Edmund and Elspeth’s family and Loki once again pulls off a trick that almost costs the kids their lives.

But Lake also uses the “Fay” background of Cluran and his mother to bring the back story of this alternative legend into the foreground again.  In this way Lake skillfully weaves in new characters and a new setting but also continues the theme of devotion and sacrifice that runs through the books.

In a dramatic and climatic battle scene you have Loki and Elspeth’s final confrontation preceded by a dragon of fire doing battle with both the mountainous Ice Dragon and the battered Torment.  But it takes an incredibly sacrifice to finally destroy Loki.

Thankfully, despite all the tragedy and hardship Edmund and Elspeth’s friendship remains.  And Lake gracefully ends the book and the series with this good news.

If you haven’t yet read this dark but powerful trilogy I recommend it.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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