The Sacred Band
by David Anthony Durham
With the first two books in the Acacia Trilogy, Acacia and The Other Lands, David Anthony Durham has created a vast and engrossing canvas of a world in turmoil, where the surviving children of a royal dynasty are on a quest to realize their fates—and perhaps right ancient wrongs once and for all. As The Sacred Band begins, one of them, Queen Corinn, bestrides the world as a result of her mastery of spells found in the ancient Book of Elenet. Her younger brother, Dariel, has been sent on a perilous mission to the Other Lands, while her sister, Mena, travels to the far north to confront an invasion of the feared race of the Auldek. Their separate trajectories will converge in a series of world-shaping, earth-shattering battles, all rendered with vividly imagined detail and in heroic scale.
David Anthony Durham concludes his tale of kingdoms in collision in an exciting fashion. His fictional world is at once realistic and fantastic, informed with an eloquent and distinctively Shakespearean sensibility.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review): This triumphant conclusion to the Acacia trilogy vindicates Durham's resurrection of a major character in 2009's The Other Lands. Corinn Akaran, queen of Acacia, used her ever-growing magical powers to revive her brother Aliver to aid her defense of her kingdom. But there are no simple resolutions to the challenges facing Corinn and her siblings, and the gap widens between the means she employs and the ends she pursues. Durham provides a graphic and chilling look at how far Corinn is willing to go to advance her cause as she brutally massacres opposing armies, and that's just the beginning. A smooth plot, Corinn's well-developed character, and Durham's stellar prose and rich imagination will have many traditional fantasy fans hoping for future books set in this turbulent world.
Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestseller: Provides the best of both worlds: epic world-changing conflict and touching character-centered story. What else could you possibly want?
Jay Lake, Hugo and Nebula Winner: There's a lot of great things to say about these books, from the interestingly lateral work in the secondary world-building to the casual yet intense role that race plays in certain aspects of the story to the sheer fun of the action sequences, but I can't recommend the Acacia trilogy highly enough for fans of plot and technique. Epic fantasy is so well established a genre that it's always fascinating when someone comes along and tips over my expectations. Durham has done this in a big way.
Neth Space: Durham's ambitious trilogy takes the largely conservative genre of epic fantasy in a new direction of rather progressive thought and action and builds things up to a very fitting and satisfying conclusion... The Sacred Band, and the Acacia Trilogy as a whole, is a wonderful breath of fresh air. It has all the cool sense of wonder that great fantasy can have — unique and weird animals, dragons (of a sort), magic, mad sorcerers, a corrupt powerful queen, an idealistic prince, a warrior princess, and a dashing brigand. Each deals with their place in realistic ways that serve to transcend the cliche. And the action and setting are just what fantasy fans look for. It's a really well put together work and a satisfying conclusion to an often underrated trilogy. Durham's foray into fantasy ends successfully. And it leaves me craving for more.
Kirkus (Starred Review): Durham (Gabriel's Story, 2002, etc.) brings his sci-fi Acacia Trilogy to a satisfying close. Samuel R. Delany meets Cormac McCarthy meets J.R.R. Tolkien as the striking and subtly powerful Corinn Akaran settles into queenship over the Known World just in time to take up arms with the Other Lands. "We're at war," she says, matter-of-factly. And war it is, with supposed allies turning tail and threats of invasion putting a decided downward cast on the scene. Corinn is a tough cookie, but she nurtures an abiding hope that her son, Aaden, will prove himself as "the greatest Akaran monarch yet." Naturally, opportunities abound for him to show his stuff. Meanwhile, Corinn's brother Aliver is on hand to help, having miraculously come back to life after having been killed in the second installment. ("You were dead before," says Aaden. "Exactly," replies Aliver. "I like you better alive," responds Aaden, having thought the matter over.) Durham is a master of the swords-and-sorcery genre, with the bonus that this is swords-and-sorcery with spaceships that give the Millennium Falcon a run for the money; the trilogy, this volume included, tends to be talky, but it's the right kind of talky, without wasted words. He also takes time to paint scenes in words that other writers might brush away, as with this description of a book-filled library: "Tall windows cast elongated rectangles of red-gold sunrise light, but the room's candles still burned, thick ones that jutted through the tables like tree trunks and burned with flames the size of spearheads." That's a world worth fighting for, and Durham's pages are full of thrilling action that would do Tolkien proud. A close, yes—but with wiggle room for more Acacian adventures. At any rate, on the strength of this installment, Durham's many fans will be clamoring for more.
Library Journal: Having discovered the magic contained in the long-lost Book of Elenet, Corinn, now Queen of the Known World, unwisely demonstrates her godlike powers. Her brother Dariel, sent on a dangerous mission to the Other Lands, contends with a number of exotic tribes who could either pose a threat or become an asset to the Known World. Corinn's sister Mena and her sentient flying companion, Elya, travel to the northern lands to confront the dangerous Auldek, whose alliance with slavers provides them with the source of their apparent immortality. The conclusion of Durham's trilogy (The War with the Mein; The Other Lands) ties the threads of these separate stories unto a satisfying climactic world-changing battle. VERDICT Strong writing, intriguing characters, and a richly detailed background—along with the possibility for future development of Durham's scenario—make this fantasy epic a winner for those who enjoy large-scale fantasy along the lines of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series.
Robert Thompson, The Fantasy Book Critic: ...another well-written novel from David Anthony Durham, highlighted by accomplished prose, rich characterization, morally ambiguous characters, creative world-building that reflects real history & social issues—slavery, forms of government, racial tensions, etc.—and an imagination that breathes new life into such classic fantasy tropes as dragons, prophesied heroes and war... Considering everything that occurred in the first two volumes of The Acacia Trilogy, The Sacred Band had a lot riding on its shoulders. Thankfully, David Anthony Durham was more than up to the task, delivering a rewarding conclusion in The Sacred Band that successfully wraps up The Acacia Trilogy...
Jeff VanderMeer, The Washington Post: The knock against heroic fantasy is that much of it devolves into a simplistic story of good vs. evil set against a backdrop of pale reflections of feudal Europe. But the best examples, like the grandly sprawling Acacia trilogy by David Anthony Durham, serve as a powerful rebuttal of this criticism. His final volume, The Sacred Band — following Acacia (2007) and The Other Lands (2009) — provides a deeply satisfying conclusion to an ethnically diverse series in which Durham has proved just as comfortable exploring the uses of power as conjuring up strange magic.
Acacia is part of the Known World, existing between northern aggressors and southern sorcerers. At the center of a story covering more than a decade stand four heirs to the legacy of murdered Acacian emperor Leodan Akaran: the idealistic Aliver; the strong-willed Corinn, now queen of the realm; the eventually battle-tested Mena; and Dariel, who changes during the course of the novels from a brigand to a man with a fierce moral core.
By the time of The Sacred Band, Queen Corinn has restored the Akaran dynasty by wielding terrible magic over the Known World and its many races. Her younger brother Dariel continues his travels through the dangerous Other Lands, having become a convert to the cause of freeing slaves. His many adventures, including exploration of a mysterious abandoned city, evoke the best of classic swords-and-sorcery. Meanwhile, fans of fantasy battles will enjoy following Mena as she heads north with an army to repulse the primary threat to Acacia, the semi- immortal Auldek people. A midair fight between Mena's bird-dragon and another creature also results in a breathless and riveting scene.
Queen Corinn, however, occupies the center of The Sacred Band. She's a frightening and complex woman. While quelling an uprising, she makes one man "erupt with maggots that consumed his living flesh." She is also haunted by dreams of a "vague, writhing, wormlike enormity," and in a truly chilling scene, she fights off a curse that eats into her own flesh. Readers may not always like her, but they will never forget her.
As a final confrontation between the Acacians and the Auldek falls into place, Durham knows better than to give readers an entirely happy ending. Aliver comes to the fore in a scene that evokes the spirit world; Dariel fulfills his destiny; and a sea serpent's maw features prominently in some characters' fate. Indeed, it is entirely to Durham's credit that near the very end of this excellent trilogy a character can say, "You loved life and feared death and that is what living is!" without sounding foolish or melodramatic.