Return of the Wizard King introduced us to the world of Tralodren, a mystical realm of sword and sorcery, as rich in complicated history as Middle-Earth or even Arrakis. Readers followed in the footsteps of a group of mercenary heroes, including the warrior Dugan, bigoted knight Rowan, honorable dwarf Vinder, and the mysterious elf Alara. While our heroes succeeded in defeating the Elyellium Elves from obtaining empire-building knowledge, it was at great cost thanks to the machinations of a lich, the last wizard king known as Cadrith Elanis. Trial of the Wizard King followed Cadrith on his journey to obtain ultimate power, all the while being observed by the Pantheon of Gods. The heroes initially went their separate ways before being led to an inevitable and intense confrontation with the former lich.
That book ended with the villain triumphant as Cadrith became as powerful as a god, while several of our heroes ended up dead or dying. Picking up immediately after this game-changing cliffhanger, the first chapter of Triumph of the Wizard King explores the aftermath of their battle and ultimately adds to the already-excessive body count with the apparent departure of several major players. The survivors, including Rowan, Alara, and the wizardess Cadrissa, embark on a quest for yet another ancient and powerful artifact, making one last-ditch effort to avenge their fallen comrades and put an end to Cadrith’s path of destruction for good.
In my initial review for Return of the Wizard King, I likened the story and the formation of its heroes to Marvel’s The Avengers. In keeping with that comparison, this book reads as a cross between Infinity War and Endgame, as the narrative alternates between Cadrith’s pursuit of ultimate power and the heroes who will risk everything to stop him and prevent the end of their world. While both films managed to tell one mostly cohesive story over the course of five-plus hours, writer Chad Corrie has attempted to delivery a story that’s similar in scope and intensity, putting a cap on his trilogy in just under 400 pages. It’s a daunting task that proves to be mostly successful.
With the shocking loss of several main characters, the story would have benefited from a tighter focus on our surviving heroes and it does, at least initially. Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, the story spends a great deal of page-time with the Pantheon of Gods, a clever concept that suffers from one too many different characters. While their contribution to the story fleshes out the history of Tralodren and builds upon the theme of “knowledge is power,” these chapters slow the pacing down tremendously. Likewise the respective journeys of both hero and villain seem redundant as they’re essentially doing what they’ve done in the previous books, just with higher stakes and fewer companions.
One area where Corrie definitely succeeds is in his world-building. Tralodren feels, at first, like any other fantasy realm, but its rich mythology informs much of the characters’ journeys. The Pantheon of Gods, in many ways, represents the variety of religions in our own world, complete with a different perspective on the afterlife for each of the different races. While this may not seem surprising, the fact that the afterlife is a real thing here means we get to see a glimpse (or more) of the spiritual fate that awaits the dearly departed. It’s a clever and respectful take that pays homage to faith in general and allows us the chance to say one last goodbye to our fallen friends.
If you enjoyed the previous novels, there is plenty to enjoy with Triumph of the Wizard King. Despite its pacing issues and a confusing cast of deities, Corrie manages to stick the landing and deliver an ending to his trilogy that is both epic and emotional. Plus, the extended epilogue ties up everything nicely but leaves it open enough should Corrie choose to revisit this world.