A Fool's Hope by Mike Shackle

A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle

Timy: It’s hard to believe I only read and reviewed We Are the Dead at the beginning of the year and now here I am, reviewing A Fool’s Hope. I was lucky to get my hands on it via Netgalley. Thanks to Gollancz for providing me an ARC in exchange of an honest review.

Jen: A huge thank you to Mike Shackle for the personalized copy of A Fool’s Hope. Love the artwork to pieces!

About the Book
Series: The Last War #2Genre: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark
Date of Publishing: December 3rd 2020Publisher: Gollancz
Book Blurb
A Fool's Hope by Mike Shackle

War takes everything.

From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give everything she has left to keep Zorique safe.

It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – now must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.

For the enemy intends to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back. And if Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do.

The sequel to the darkly fantastic WE ARE THE DEAD: with more unflinching action, A FOOL’S HOPE sees Jia’s revolutionaries dig in their heels as they learn that wars aren’t won in a day.

Timy
Quote of the Book

“War’s orchestra played its merry tune in the distance: explosions, screams, steel beating steel and the Gods only knew what else. Yas barely noticed it. Death and destruction had become as commonplace as birdsong.”

Song of the Book

I smartly picked a Breaking Benjamin song for We Are the Dead and I’m more than happy to pick one for A Fool’s Hope too. I think this series is worthy of my favorite band and Torn in Two would be a perfect song for Dren.

Timy's Review

It’s not much of a secret that I first got interested in The Last War series by Mike Shackle, when I saw Jen’s updates while reading We Are the Dead and Shackle’s reactions to it. Then I got a copy myself thanks to Shackle’s generousness and in the end I stayed for the characters and the story. After loving We Are the Dead it was not much of a question whether I’ll read the sequel, A Fool’s Hope. The only question was when. In hindsight, reading it right after Call of the Bone Ships wasn’t the smartest idea – who the hell wants to get herself ruined TWICE in a row? Me, apparently. I’m fitting right here in this asylum, I tell you.

A Fool’s Hope starts immediately where we left the characters in We Are the Dead. Tinnstra and Zorique are on their way to Meigore, hoping for safety. Dren is back on the streets of Kiyosun, the Hanran does everything in their power to get rid of the Skulls and Yas tries to survive while providing for her family as best as she can. As with We Are the Dead, events in A Fool’s Hope happen within a chaos-filled couple of days. Apart from the familiar Jian POV characters, in this book we get a couple of Egril ones – Mateon and Francin – as well as a Meigorian one, Ralasis.

Mateon is a young Egril soldier, his head full of ideals and dreams of glory in the name of Kage. He learns soon enough that war is anything but glorious. Francin is a high ranking Chosen whose skills can help him wreak havoc from the inside. It was great to have glimpses from the other side of the conflict, to see into the workings of the Egril and their worship of Kage. Ralasis is the captain of the ship that takes Tinnstra and Zorique to relative safety and who gets in the thick of things by following his heart. A Fool’s Hope also introduces Zorique as a POV character, which is sure a nice touch.

The horrible thing about spoiler-free reviews is that I can’t talk about some of the events here even though I really, really want to. That these characters are having a really hard time is the understatement of the year. Shackle does not shy away from making them go through hell again and again, to the point where you just want to go and beg him to stop. As much as for your own sanity as for the characters’. Because there is only so much you can take. One thing’s for sure: I would not last in this world for very long.

What’s amazing though is that despite the narrow time frame and the roughly 1000 pages (combining the two books), the characters we follow from the beginning go through quite some changes, which Shackle handles very well. I remember wanting to drown Dren myself in We Are the Dead, then warming up to him by the end of the book. Only for him to become my favorite character in A Fool’s Hope. And while I liked Tinnstra, by the end of this book, she got to the bottom of my list. While she has good intentions and I really do get where she is coming from, her somewhat narrow mindedness started to grate on me. I can’t wait for what book 3 brings for us. Oh, one more thing regarding the characters: Mike Shackle, how very dare you?!

A Fool’s Hope raises the stakes as Kiyosun (and whole Jia) clings to the last threads of its freedom. Surprises are waiting behind every corner, and there was some turn of events you definitely won’t see coming. The end of chapter cliffhangers are very clever and maddeningly infuriating all at the same time, because it makes putting the book down so goddamn hard. Get your tea and cookies ready, because Shackle definitely won’t offer you any during this character-driven, action-packed, emotional roller coaster ride.

A Fool’s Hope is a most excellent follow up to We Are the Dead, and one of the best books I’ve read this year. Sekanowari is here and gods help anyone who gets caught up in the chaos and mayhem that follows in its wake. If these books were any indication, the coming events won’t be any less brutal, bloody and utterly heart-wrenching with nothing to guide us but a fool’s hope.

Right, where did I left my emotional support panda, again?

Timy’s rating: 5/5

Jen
Quote of the Book

“How many battlefields had he walked with his Shulka by his side, laughing at the slaughter? It had all been such a game to them all, practice for their spear-arms. They never saw the Egril as human, never thought of the widows they made or the orphans they created. Never once did they contemplate brokering a peace. The Shulka were only too happy to fight. That’s why they existed, after all. What use were warriors without a war?”

Song of the Book

I’m not even much of a Blue Oyster Cult fan but this song is one of my favourites – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and I thought it suited the story.

Jen's Review

Well, after I lost my first review things got a little out of hand here, so feel free to skip to the TL;DR.

I always think of second books as the Empire Strikes Back of a trilogy. The first book grabs you and drags you along for a fun ride. The second slows down a bit* and lets us dig a little deeper into the world, and its characters. To me, they’re the proof of the pudding. The book that is going to let a series stand even taller, or fall, if the story fails on its previous promise.

The quick rundown

 
Picking up directly after book one, Tinnstra is headed to Meigore, with the young Queen Zorique, leaving the burning city of Kiyosun behind. We gain some great characters in the city of Layso with Anama, Ralasis, and Maiza. And we also learn through them, that Aasagod knew that the Egril were amassing their forces, and had believed it was the start of Sekanowari – The Last War.

Dren returns to Kiyosun vowing to step-up and not just cause chaos and to be a good soldier. I have a big soft spot for Dren and let me tell you, his chapters caused me unending anxiety.

Jax is suffering from pretty bad PTSD. I didn’t think things could get worse than they were for Jax, after the torture and the losses he endured, but they managed to be. What a sad state, for such a great warrior from book one (the author has mistreated all my favourite characters).

Yas is dealing with her grief and guilt, and the fall-out, for her role in the events of the last book.

The Weeping Men, have become the new problem the city of Kiyosun faces. A gang that has established a foothold in the aftermath of the destruction and removal of the Skulls. These guys are terrifying. They’re kind of the triad, or mafia, of this world – opportunists just there to make a buck, and don’t give a crap about the people.

***

As much as I’d love to talk about certain plot points, I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything so in this review I’m just going to touch a few things I really enjoyed.

A Fool’s Hope did a lot right for me.

The first, right thing A Fool’s Hope did, was give us Mateon. I mentioned in my review of We Are the Dead how much I appreciated the little moments shown that helped to humanize the Egril soldiers.

The addition of Mateon, takes that one step further, and gives us a character who, even though we maybe don’t always understand his beliefs, as a young man thrown into a war that is more than what he expected; his fear and uncertainty gives us a common ground, to at least sympathize with his character.

At first, I thought he was going to be a Darus mini-me, but as he moves into his place in the Egril troop’s occupying Kiyosun, and is faced with the realties of war, we see he’s more scared kid, than zealot. Mateon moved up there into my favourite spot, right next to Dren.

Second thing A Fool’s Hope did right. As always, Mike Shackle’s women characters, are strong and capable, while still having a soft-side that doesn’t make them feel like caricature-ladies. I loved Yas, I love Tinnstra, I love that they have grown, but still battle the fear and the guilt of choices that meant their survival, and others dying. I also loved that we get a variety of women, and a few new faces in this book. (In my notes – I feel another great lady character coming in Maiza.)

Yas, who, I wasn’t overly keen on in book one, turned into my favourite in A Fool’s Hope. She is Ripley, and Furiosa, rolled into one fiercely protective mama. I think her character had some of my favourite moments – maybe because her battle was personal, and relatable in scope, not sure, but whatever it was, she was awesome.

Which brings me to a couple other things A Fool’s Hope did right.

  • It gave us some personal battles that we can see accomplished amongst the big war. Dren, Jax, Yas, Hasan – their time in Kiyosun would have been a lot less interesting, without the glimpse of what surviving looks like after their ‘win’ back of the city.  
  • And consequences to actions. Things that happened in last book we see the fall-out for in this book (some I won’t forgive the author for).

I loved seeing the character progressions, and that it’s just as diverse and real as people can be. Some start strong, only to be knocked down by the realties of war. Some start weak, or selfish, or just plain angry, only to step-up to plate when they are needed; surprising even themselves.

A Fool’s Hope does not shy away from the nasty horrors of war; the utter chaos, starving, and just plain unfairness, or from the people who just don’t give a shit and are looking to cash in on other people’s sorrows. It proves over and over that this isn’t a world for the weak, only survivors willing to do what’s needed, have a chance of making it. (I can tell you I’d have been long dead in this world.)

Which brings me to one of my favourite and best moments (the quote if you are reading on the blog), that came about with Jax’s observations – that when it was their side winning, the Shulka would have been doing the same thing as the Egril soldiers… that hurt a little because these guys are supposed to be the heroes. But that little reminder says – when it comes to war, no one is a hero to anyone other than the winning side.

What A Fool’s Hope did wrong.

Well, nothing in my book. I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d change (outside of possibly one thing, to do with a certain someone, that I really like, but, I am not petty enough to dock my score for that).

Right to the end – A Fool’s Hope was a fun, adrenaline-inducing story, with a couple of daggers to the heart to make it worth your while.

Bring on Sekanowari! Book three can’t come soon enough.

TL;DR

We Are the Dead was a damned good book. There wasn’t a lot of room for improvement but, Mike Shackle brought his A-game to A Fool’s Hope, and the follow-up is freaking incredible.

Other notes

*Shackle’s style of writing would never let anything grind to a halt or slow down for long, because he doesn’t waste a word. I’ve said it before, but he is a pro at feeding information on the run, and this style is what let’s us feel like we are blasting through the story, but still connecting us to the world and characters – think of it as a Matrix download.

  • I was kind of glad the last book wasn’t out. I might have been tempted to look ahead to see who was mentioned. It was hard enough not skipping through the chapter titles to make sure certain characters made it to the end. (So glad I was reading the digital copy, because with the paperback, I would have flipped through, for sure.)
  • Vague for spoilers: I had one thought about Zorique while reading, that I would have loved to see in this series at some point, which did happen and made my day.
  • Second favourite moment – again vague for spoilers: was to do with Zorique and her vigil at the door (I loved the thought process here).

Jen’s rating: 5/5

Our Judgement
Praise Their Name - 5 crowns

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