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The Last Quarrel: The Arbalester Trilogy 1…
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The Last Quarrel: The Arbalester Trilogy 1 (Complete Edition)

by Duncan Lay

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I really wanted to love this book, but unfortunately I didn’t. It had some qualities that I enjoyed: excellent action sequences, and a fallible hero, Fallon, who is also a family man. I did enjoy the character development of Fallon's wife, Bridgit, she begins to conquer her personal demons and emerges at the end of the series a stronger person and more likeable character. However, I found it to be a plot with few surprises.

The problem for me was the combination of the stories in one volume. (It is my understanding that this story was originally serialised in five parts.) There is a need when writing a story which spans several volumes, with a substantial gap of time between each, to remind readers of certain aspects of the story or what has gone before. When combined in one volume this became very repetitive and disengaged me as a reader. For example, the reader is often reminded of the marital problems between the hero and his wife and her depression and neurosis – this repetition was, in my opinion, unnecessary and added little to the story. The scenes that did this seemed almost carbon copies of each other.

Perhaps this would not have been a problem if reading these parts as they were originally published, with a time gap, between each.

In terms of pacing I found the first 300 pages (on my ereader) on the slow side with an enormous amount of set up and little action. After this the pacing improves greatly and the book is a much more enjoyable read.

I think the book could have benefited from a more judicious edit, particularly when combined. (Of course then it wouldn't be the complete edition.)

Three Stars ( )
  tracymjoyce | Nov 16, 2017 |
This is the first book of a fantasy trilogy that takes place in the lands of Gaelland (loosely, Ireland), and the Kotterman Empire (loosely, the Ottoman Empire). It begins in Gaelland in the sea town of Baltimore. [In real life there is a village named Baltimore in County Cork, Ireland, that was sacked in the 17th Century by Islamic pirates, with more than 100 villagers taken and sold into slavery. Apparently this incident was one of the inspirations for Lay’s story.]

As this story begins, villagers are disappearing, and the crown is blaming selkies (evil water spirits) and witches. To prevent further depredations, young girls are being burned at the stake, and the villagers are being pressed for more gold to appease “the selkies.” Fallon, the local sheriff of Baltimore, doesn’t believe in supernatural agents, and hopes to prove that it is men behind the attacks. His wife Bridgit, ever protective of Fallon and their ten-year-old son Kerrin, wants him to stay out of it, but he can’t. Not only is it his job to defend his villagers, but he has ambitions to be recognized and promoted.

But what is going wrong is clearly bigger than selkies or even random witches, and reaches right up to the top of the kingdom, where King Aidan, corrupt and licentious, rules with an iron hand, and his two sons, the naive and quixotic Cavan and the malevolent Swane are forced to do his bidding. Fallon thinks the answer lies with supporting Cavan, and ignores warnings that he is mixing into something much too evil and powerful for ordinary human beings to resist.

Discussion: This is a good plot with plenty of tension and some good characters, especially Fallon and Bridgit. But some of the writing is pretty bad, such as the dialogue uttered by Aidan (viz., “Silence! I am the King and I am always right!”) and there is a lot of repetition that could have been eliminated by better editing. Oddly, both Fallon and Cavan grow more naive as the story progresses, and the prose seems to be trying to accommodate their lack of intelligence; by the end, the narrative and speeches by Aidan were all but hitting everyone on the head with what was really going on; only Fallon and Cavan were oblivious. I think rewriting would have served this section better as well.

Nevertheless, the story is compelling, and I would like to find out what happens in the next installment. ( )
  nbmars | Mar 20, 2017 |
I have to say, I've got a bit of a problem with this collection of 5 'episodes' of this fantasy story being called a 'Complete Edition,' because this is not a completed story. It ends on a huge cliffhanger, with none of the story's various dilemmas resolved. I have to assume more episodes are on the way...

That aside, I would recommend the story to those looking for light, action-oriented 'popcorn entertainment' fantasy. It's fun, I didn't really have any complaints about it, and it moves along at a fast clip.

My thoughts on the various episodes follow:

1.
This first 'episode' sets the stage for what looks to be shaping up to be a very standard but quite entertaining fantasy novel.

First, we're introduced to Fallon. A staff-wielding local law-enforcer, he's always hungered for the change to be a hero. However, as a middle-aged family man with a son in ill-health and a wife suffering from depression and anxiety, he seems unlikely to get his chance. However, when the Duke's ship runs aground outside his village, mysteriously abandoned, he sees a chance to prove himself by investigating the disappearance.

Meanwhile, in the city, rumors of abductions and disappearances have led to literal witch hunts. The populace is in fear. Prince Cavan is well-meaning and good-hearted, but finds himself with little power. However, he develops a suspicion that his debaucherous brother might be behind the missing persons cases. He also resolves to investigate.

2. (possible minor spoilers for those who haven't yet read the previous episodes follow)
Fallon the village Sergeant and Cavan the Crown Prince continue to investigate the mysterious disappearances that have been plaguing Gaelland.

Fallon is convinced that the culprits are men. Cavan suspects his brother. The King and the Archbishop of Aroaril seem to be convinced that it's the work of evil witches who sacrifice to the dark god Zorva. Or possibly malevolent selkies out of folklore are to blame.

Is it possible that the heads of both religion and state are actually part of a conspiracy to manipulate events for their financial gain, and the fate of innocents be damned?

Evidence seems to be pointing that way, but we'll have to wait for further episodes to unveil further revelations...


3. Here, the mysterious disappearances that have been plaguing Gaelland get personal. The reader discovers a bit more of what's actually going on, but the depths of the depravity and the extent of the betrayals are not yet fully clear...

Anxiety-ridden Bridgit gets a chance to rise to the occasion (and does, perhaps a bit too easily.)

'Ninjas' are spotted...

Nautical action abounds...

Swordplay, too...

Not to mention evil magic...

This is shaping up to be less 'deep' than I hoped, but it's still good fun, and I haven't had any problems with it at all.

This 'episode' ends on a cliffhanger, so I'll be moving right along to the next.


4. The story continues...

I found the Kottermani prince Kemal's reaction to Bridgit's defiant bravery to strain belief...

And while we're at it, while I'll accept that a dog might recognize a person or clothes of a different country & culture than that dog was raised with, I have my doubts about it recognizing furniture...

That said, the tale continued to be entertaining, as Fallon and Cavan work together with the aim of uncovering dastardly plots, rescuing kidnapped innocents, and hopefully, eventually, cleaning up the corruption at the heart of the kingdom.

The 'big reveal' at the end of this episode wasn't a huge surprise, though...


5. Well, that was aggravating.

I thought this was supposed to be the 'last' episode in the 'Last Quarrel' BUT it ends on a huge cliffhanger.
I have no objection to leaving things open for sequels, but this is in another category altogether. Nothing at all is resolved.

I also decided that the book as a whole would've been better as a pure fantasy, without the obvious historical basis: the Ottoman Empire kidnapping slaves from the British Isles. (I read Jane Johnson's 'Tenth Gift' https://www.goodreads.com/review/show..., based on the same sort of incident, not so long ago... I didn't love that book either, but I did like it a little better...)

I'd still recommend this series for those looking for some light fantasy 'popcorn entertainment,' but I'm not going to be holding my breath until the further sequels are released.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan) for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay was originally released in five separate parts. Then The Last Quarrel: The Complete Edition was released containing all of the parts and I dived in with anticipatory glee. And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very enjoyable book with plenty of action and likable characters. At times, some of the characters seemed a bit naïve and their actions somewhat incomprehensible given past actions of other characters. But that was okay - it’s fantasy and, overall, pretty decent fantasy…except…except, as I got deeper into the story and closer to the end, instead of winding down, it seemed like more details and questions were being added and there was still no resolution in sight. I anticipated some mighty action-packed and bloody last few pages at this rate but nada. The story ended on one gigantic cliffhanger with pretty much nothing resolved. Turns out Complete just doesn’t mean what I though it did. Rather, this is the Complete Edition of the first in a series of I don’t know how many books which would have been nice to know beforehand in case I didn’t feel like starting a new series right now given the number I am already committed to.

So would I have read it had I known? Most likely. It’s my favourite kind of fantasy. Sword and Sorcery with very little of either, interesting world-building and story-line, plenty of action, and very little romance. (One caveat: there is, however, a very disturbing rape scene) But I would have anticipated the ending and wouldn’t have been annoyed by it.

Would I still recommend it? Absolutely. This is a very entertaining fantasy novel just not a Complete one. So you might want to keep that in mind before you start it. Personally, I am already looking forward to the Sequel: The Complete Edition. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Sep 14, 2015 |
The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay is the first book in a new trilogy, set in the same world as his other series but in different countries (and I think chronologically later, although I'm less sure when it comes to the Dragon Sword Histories). It is being released in five "episodes", with the final episode due out in a couple of weeks and the collected volume (ie all of book one of the trilogy) due out in late April. This is a review of the full volume, although I also posted a brief review of episode one a few days ago.

In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken.

Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide.

When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end …


I had the luxury of not having to wait for the next episode to come out when I was reading this, since I got review copies of the whole lot in one go. To me this felt like an ordinary novel, albeit one where I had to change files every 250ish iPad pages. I didn't detect any modifications to the flow of the novel to account for the episode structure. The episode breaks came at the ends of chapters (of course) and while they were mild cliffhangers, they weren't any more cliffhanging than chapters normally are. To me it was the usual frustration of waiting to get back to the hanging point of view. But enough about structure, what about the book?

The early parts of The Last Quarrel has two point of view characters, which expand to three later on. There's the Crown Prince, who seems to be the only nice person among the nobility in the capital city. Along with his two offsiders — body guard and scribe/advisor/can't remember his official title — he quickly realises that the weird stuff is going on is not supernatural and tries to get to the bottom of it.

Not believing in a supernatural cause for the trouble is something the prince shares with the other main character, Fallon. Fallon starts off as a village sergeant, the only proper soldier around, and when the county's Duke disappears off his ship in a Marie Celeste situation, he takes it upon himself to investigate. He becomes increasingly convinced that people are behind a slew of mysterious disappearances, but few other people in power agree with him. He does catch the eye of both the Duchess and the Crown Prince, signalling a rise in his fortunes.

There aren't a lot of female characters in The Last Quarrel, but those that do exist are fleshed out proper people with agency. They also happen to become more important as the book progresses. For example, Fallon's wife, Bridgit, starts off without much of a roll beyond mother and wife. But her character has depth, initially in the form of a lot of anxieties. Her fears have a basis but they are a little frustrating since their purpose appears to be to slow down the plot. However, when the plot catches up with Bridgit she gets a chance to come out of her shell of anxiety and over-protectiveness (of her son) and really shine. I was pretty ambivalent about her character until events conspired to give her her own point of view sections. (I'd go into more details, but spoilers.)

Fans of Lay's might be wondering if his theme of having male characters in strong parental roles continues in this series. The short answer is: it does. It takes a little while for Fallon's relationship with his son to become central to the story, but when it does, Lay presents us with yet another type of father-child relationship.

Finally, I found the end a bit frustrating. Honestly, it was more of a cliffhanger than any of the episode breaks. But also, the "twist" contained (in full) in the last few pages was kind of obvious to me and I was annoyed that the relevant character fell for it. And then of course being the ending there were no pages left to explore ramifications. Gah! When does book 2 come out? Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.

So, is The Last Quarrel worth reading? Absolutely. If you're a Duncan Lay or BFF (big fat fantasy) fan then I highly recommend it. It took a little while for me to get far enough into it to really start enjoying myself (the opening wasn't bad, it was just more fun once the plot got into the swing of things). If you've read one or two episodes and are undecided about continuing, I would urge you to do so. The book improves, and the cast broadens, as it goes along. I think that's a danger in episode-ising a BFF novel. If the set up isn't super gripping then readers might be lost along the way. Compared with readers who might feel obliged to keep going if they bought the novel in full, and then end up enjoying it. So I'm not sold on the concept but I am sold on the novel and this new series of Duncan Lay's.

4.5 / 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Mar 15, 2015 |
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Fallon's worst nightmare has come true. The raiders struck at Baltimore and the village is gone. Everything he knew is gone. Everything but his son, Kerrin, found hiding. But the raiders just made their first mistake. Because now Fallon and his friends have nothing to lose. And they are willing to do anything to get their families back.… (more)

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