LEGACY OF STEEL by Matthew Ward
Orbit, pb, £8.44
Reviewed by Michael Dodd
After 2019’s fantastic Legacy of Ash, Matthew Ward’s epic Legacy Trilogy continues with Legacy of Steel, another hefty volume packed full of conflicted characters, dangerous power struggles and gripping fantasy action. Set a year or so after the events of book one, it’s very much a story of consequences, as the Tressian council tries to recover its power and influence while shadows loom both within and without the Republic. The sinister power of the Crowmarket waxes in the city of Tressia, while the Hadari Empire – now united by Kai Saran and his daughter, Melanna – prepares for war in the name of the goddess Ashana. The influence of the gods is rising, while the Republic’s greatest hero, Viktor Akadra, is nowhere to be seen.
Legacy of Ash was a rare trilogy opener that wrapped things up nicely as a powerful story in its own right, although it’s hard to imagine many readers not wanting to know what happens next. In a sense, Legacy of Steel delivers more of the same, only on an even grander scale with higher stakes, a bigger cast, more magic and more drama. All the major events and decisions in book one have tangible costs in this volume, with familiar names like Melanna, Josiri, Rosa, Sevaka, Malachi and Viktor all dealing in their own ways with what went before, and none of them having it easy. Once again, this is a power struggle on multiple planes, both political and military, but as the already-large cast grows further with newly introduced politicians and warriors, it also sees a variety of divinities step onto the ephemeral plane and take sides in the growing conflict. Of course, gods have their own motivations and goals, so even as the mortal characters’ secrets and justifications gradually become clear, so too do the gods’.
This is perhaps more of an outright war story than its predecessor, with Melanna in particular thrown quickly into one fierce, brutal conflict after another. It’s remarkably bloody in places and is sure to please fantasy fans who enjoy their battle scenes. At the same time, though, it’s also a deeper exploration of the world of Aradane, it’s magic and its history. The world is really coming to life, as Ward explores more of the Hadari Empire, the Tressian Republic and even Thrakkia – and not just their gods but their cities and power structures too. More than that, though, there’s a sense of magic coming to the fore – while the hints of magic shown in Legacy of Ash were one of its highlights, here it’s increasingly interesting to get to know a pantheon of gods (and their powers) that’s shared across different nations, with the Tressians and the Hadari each having their own interpretations of essentially the same divinities.
This is another big, chunky book with a still-growing cast to keep track of, but its length is once again belied by its clever plotting, great world-building and addictive readability, and the whole thing feels like a natural, satisfying progression from book one. While it has its own satisfying arc, it’s a little less of a standalone story this time, delivering some answers as to what happened after Legacy of Ash while posing as many new questions, but it works as an excellent ‘middle novel’ delivering plenty to think about and lots to look forward to in Legacy of Light. In this case, more of the same is a very good thing, when the characters are so well realised and engaging, the world so interesting, and the overall drama so compelling – and getting to know these characters, settings, and themes better proves to be deeply enjoyable. If it doesn’t quite have the full wow factor of the first book, given that the characters and world are all now well established. Instead, it goes deeper and darker and proves to be a rewarding story that only reinforces quite how good this series is.