One of the common problems with trilogies is that the third book feels anticlimactic. The ending never lives up to the 1000+ page set-up. Jennifer Fallon thankfully does not fall prey to this in "The Second Suns" trilogy. Lord of the shadows is just as exciting and interesting as the first two books. I said in my review of Eye of the Labyrinth that I haven't read a book that fast in a long time. Lord of the shadows broke even that record. I literally could not put it down, taking enough of a break to eat and that was about it.
Dirk Provin has apparently betrayed everything, and everyone, he holds dear to return to the Shadow Dancers, the religion of the Goddess. Unbeknownst to everybody else, though, Dirk has his own plans to bring their religion down around them. His intricate plan involves reaching the highest levels and destroying it from within. To do so, however, everybody must think the worst of him, and he is forced to use the extremely amoral Marqel, a girl who would like nothing better than to destroy Dirk. Dirk walks a razor-thin edge to achieve his goals, and one wrong move will send him plummeting over the edge. He's a man alone, cutting himself off from everybody to do what he sees as the greater good. As he does so, the world teeters on the brink. Love blossoms, and then is destroyed. A crippled prince attempts to fulfill his destiny, a destiny that his power-hungry father never dreamed of. Will Dirk succeed in his quest, or will all of his plans crumble at the whim of a bratty child who would do anything to consolidate her own power?
It hit me after I put down Lord of the shadows. After reading over 1500 pages of this series, there had only been two scenes of battle, and both of those had been very small. The only "magic" was a trick played on everybody in the kingdom. The entire "Second Suns" trilogy was a story of political intrigue on a grand scale. Lord of the shadows is a lot more streamlined then the first two books, however, as everything revolves around Dirk. He even dominates the scenes that he's not in, as the discussion is often about him or how he relates to the characters in question. Dirk has asked his cousin, Queen Alenor, to trust him no matter what happens, and she does. Tia Veran, the woman who was more intimately betrayed by Dirk, continues her skepticism and hatred of the man, despite the fact that others seem to think he may have more up his sleeve then meets the eye. Lip service is given to the Lion of Senet's schemes, but even those are mentioned mostly in relation to how Dirk will defeat him. It's a better book for this precision, as every chapter leads inexorably to the final conclusion. Even the subplots (such as Prince Misha and his imposed addiction to poppy-dust) eventually run up against Dirk's plans.
I found the characterization even better than in the first two books, as the two minor annoyances (Marqel and Tia) have their edges filed down just enough so that they're interesting without being shrill. Tia still hates and distrusts Dirk, but her relationship with Misha softens that and gives her something to do other than bad-mouth him. Marqel is still the conniving harlot, but her internal voice is toned. Dirk is again characterized wonderfully as he has to constantly run to keep the various plates spinning. As it all looks set to come down around his ears, he's rescued from an unlikely source (one of the few things in the novel that's a little too coincidental). He quickly rights himself and keeps the ball rolling.
There were a couple of minor problems. The above-mentioned coincidence is one thing, and another is the convenient way that various relationships end. While the ending is downbeat for a few characters (including one tragic one that I didn't quite see coming, at least not in the fashion it happened), there are far too many "and they lived happily ever after" results as far as relationships go. This isn't a criticism of the ending, which is riveting, but more how things end up after the climax of the book.
One of the things I really liked about this entire series, especially Lord of the shadows, is how none of the characters are "clean". They all have their own motivations and sometimes those motivations result in some nasty things. Dirk is the protagonist, and his actions are resulting in a lot of innocent deaths. He's torn by each one of them, but he's willing to go through it in order to bring down the Shadow Dancers. The reader gets the impression, however, that no matter how much he's doing this for the people of Dhevyn and especially those "heretics" who don't believe in the Goddess, but he's also doing it because of what their religion has cost him personally. It's cost him his mother, his father, his adopted father, and his honor. Kirsh is another good example. He's an honorable man who's trapped by that honor. He's a man who's in love with the wrong girl and refuses to see that it will destroy not only him, but his father as well. He's torn because he was friends with Dirk, but he finds himself on the opposite side.
One final prop I'll give this book, and the entire series as well, is its unpredictability. So many times I thought I knew what was going to happen, only to have it pulled out from under me. Dirk unleashes his plan a lot earlier then I expected him to. The event that brings about the beginning of the end I thought was just going to be a demonstration to further install Marqel as High Priestess, so I was truly shocked. Fallon has a remarkable flare for the dramatic, and that entire chapter held me tightly. This applies to her prose throughout the entire book.
Pick this entire series up. If you like fantasy (and don't mind that there isn't much hack-n-slash), you'll love it.