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The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.
Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy—adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood—and she has been sent to spy on the High King.
Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.
Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.
No fantasy novel that features a school of magic can avoid comparisons to Potter. By the same token, few fantasy novels that feature countrysides and kingdoms embroiled in a complicated civil war and debates about who is entitled to a crown can avoid comparisons to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. However, with The Last Page, Anthony Husso manages to, yes, remind readers of those two great series, but also separate himself from those inevitable comparisons.
The novel concerns Caliph Howl and his reluctance to take over the crown of Stonehold. Like many heroes modeled in the Campbell tradition, Caliph accepts his responsibility and the crown and sets upon a journey that is unique, in a world vividly colored and lushly detailed. That’s no easy feat in Fantasy yet Huso manages it effortlessly.
Adding to Caliph’s struggle to rule are the various factions that oppose him and the tabloidish newspaper articles that circulate gossip about his relationship with Sena, a former lover and classmate of Caliph’s who has studied under the Shradnae Witchocracy to use her magical and physical prowess to further political agendas.
There are many, many threads being woven in this novel, some fantastic, some political, some simply about romantic relationships and some that exhibit a vast sensory feel that encompasses steampunk, fantasy and a mix of action thrown in. Not all open threads are resolved, but promise to be in the novel’s sequel The Black Bottle.
On the whole, Huso debuts with a shining fantasy novel that is equal part complex and decadent, and a plot that thickens and twits with every chapter.