Bunch, Chris. The Last Battle.

London: Orbit, 2004.

This concluding volume of the “Dragonmaster” trilogy is rather different from the first two, and I don’t think it’s quite as successful. The great war between the nation of Deraine and its junior ally, Sagene, on one side and the loathsome enemy of Roche on the other, a widespread and exhausting conflict that filled the previous two books, is over now, and Hal Kailas, the Dragonmaster of Deraine, is at loose ends.

He’s not about to return to his village beginnings, his celebrity marriage is thoroughly over, and all he knows is war. He’s very good at that, which is how he acquired all those titles and accolades and the ear of the king. But all he really cares about is the dragons, who have been dumped on the roadside — along with many of the war’s veterans on all sides.

First he gets drunk a lot, then his neighbor and closest friend from the service dies suddenly of a heart attack. Then he discovers his old Roche enemy, Ky Yasin, whom he thought he had killed in the last assault of the war, turns up alive — and is about to be hanged on a charge of smuggling food to his now-starving countrymen. Hal can’t stomach that sort of end for another dragonflyer, even an ex-enemy, so he sets out to rescue him from his prison cell. One thing leads to another, and Hal finds himself involved in a Rochean military mission to suppress the “barbarians” on its far frontiers — which doesn’t turn out as he expected.

That first third of the book is rather episodic and really has nothing to do with the rest of the story, which tells of Hal, spurred by strange dreams, organizing a private expedition (with the King’s backing) to penetrate beyond the far eastern ocean to find out where the dragons came from and why they began migrating west a couple of centuries earlier — often in battered condition. What could force thousands of dragons to flee? It’s a reasonably interesting story, actually, a combination of exploration into the unknown, strange almost Swiftian creatures, and a dose of demon magic. The author, however, brings everything to a rather abrupt end. Not a “conclusion,” really, because there are a number of unresolved issues left hanging. It feels like there ought to have been a couple more chapters, just to wrap things up. Or perhaps this trilogy might have been better left a duology, or else the war ought to have been spread over all three volumes.

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