He was a curse upon the dwarves.
Then their savior.
But after the tragic loss of his wife, the Nameless Dwarf stood down from the throne of Arnoch and went into the mountains to die.
Two hundred years later, the dwarves are a dwindling race on the brink of civil war.
When the hordes of Arnoch storm through the Malfen Pass, refugees flee for their lives, among them the half-Slathian storyteller, Nyra Sahtis, and Sister Caelin, a priestess who was once a trainer of armies.
But with the capital, Jeridium, under siege from a second dwarven faction, there is nowhere for them to run. And so Caelin must seek the aid of the lord she once betrayed, while Nyra is forced to confront everything she left behind when she fled her childhood home in the City of Sorcerers.
As rival dwarven armies converge on Jeridium, the Senate send the assassin Shadrak the Unseen to the Southern Crags to find an old friend in a desperate bid to avert the coming catastrophe.
For ancient evil manipulates from the shadows, and the dwarves are not themselves. And if there is any hope of bringing them to their senses, it comes in the shape of a grief-stricken warrior and his mythical axe:
The Nameless Dwarf.
The hero of legends.
The last of the Exalted.
In Last of the Exalted, the reader follows the story from several perspectives. When I look on Amazon it is categorized as “New Adult Fantasy” and “Classic Fantasy”, both of which I understand, but I would categorize it as Adventure Fantasy meets High Fantasy. I really love adventure fantasy, and in my opinion author Derek Prior really got it right. I thoroughly enjoyed Last of the Exalted.
If you know me, you know I love a diverse character set. I think my favorite character is Shadrak the Unseen, an assassin hired by the Senate to find The Nameless Dwarf. Shadrak is not only a badass assassin, but I like his witty and snarky dialogue. He is the guy who can take on a whole room of bad guys and break the tension with a funny quip. Nyra and Caelin are great, also, and I really like their dynamic. The two characters play off of each other by challenging and supporting the other during their journey, and one gets the feeling that these two were lucky to come together. They have a kind of yin and yang thing going on, which is a significant aspect of the story. Last but certainly not least is The Nameless Dwarf. There is so much history and depth in his story as he was once not well-favored among his kind, then through a series of events was named King only to abdicate the throne at some point and go into hiding. Now seen as the savior once again, he reluctantly goes along with it until he finds out how he can actually contribute to the cause. No one wants unity and peace more than The Nameless Dwarf, and he will do whatever it takes to make that happen. This is a fun cast of characters to follow, each with her/his own strengths and weaknesses.
What I really liked about the story itself is how much narrative was packed into this one book. It is not incredibly long at 400+ pages, but due to the way the story is broken up it feels longer. I mean that in a good way. The characters start by going on a journey, which itself is full of trials and tribulations. Not only do they have to figure out how to make it a successful trip, but it is taking place over the backdrop of a civil war amongst the dwarfs both of which also have eyes on the capital city of Jeridium. This converging of storylines creates layers of tension that the reader is just waiting to pop, like setting several springs that are all set to go off at the same time. It is this emotional strain that keeps the story moving, an almost-magnetic force pulling the characters toward the conclusion.
I do not think using the word “magnetic” is a stretch, either. Everyone has skin in the game and is invested heavily in the outcome of the war, and they all have so much history that the reader can feel each character searching for some kind of closure of their own, as well. And the ending is very satisfying in that way. Loops are closed, stories come together, relationships are made and ended. While it was not super-twisty, there were a few surprises along the way, and I found the ending to be rewarding of the journey taken to get there.
I do want to say that while this works just fine as a standalone story, I think I would have appreciated the world Prior created had I read The Nameless Dwarf, first. This is a world that rich in history having some of that information banked already would have benefited me in reading Last of the Exalted. I may have had more admiration for The Nameless Dwarf himself, as well. Not that I do not think he is an awesome character, because I do. But there is a difference between reading about someone’s exploits and experiencing them firsthand, and so reading that book may be my next stop.
Last of the Exalted was quite an enjoyable read. With a fun diverse cast of characters, a fascinating and fun journey, and an impending war it has all of the aspects of a really good fantasy book. This book has my recommendation for fantasy readers.