Clashing Tempest, the last book of the Men of Myth trilogy continues with the parallel adventures of Finn and Brett, but now Brett has Lelas as his best friend and confidante, while Finn has Schwint as his sidekick and lover. Both young men are seeking the truth, unaware that their lives are on converging paths that will lead them to unimaginable horror—and to Sonia, waitress turned vampire queen. At the same time, we learn a great deal of back-story and begin to see the pieces come together even as our two protagonists struggle to make sense of things.
Brandon Witt creates an intense, complex and mostly dazzling world in which magic and mortality intertwine. What his narrative lacks in Tolkeinesque grandeur, it makes up for in a kind of romantic-horror road-trip feeling that is both very contemporary and very American. Throughout the series, both Brett and Finn continue to sound like what they are—young Californians in over their heads trying to embrace destines handed to them against their wills. They are reluctant heroes, and they are not exceptionally noble. By keeping them flawed, Witt gives us characters we grow to love and care for, and he plumbs emotional depths that satisfy our need to feel along with them. These are not cerebral books; they’re all heart.
Sonia continues to be my stumbling block in the third book. I think we are supposed to sympathize with her, or at least with her hellish predicament — she is fully aware of the horror she has become, and hates it; yet she feels no remorse or love or connection to the gentle, loving human she was. Gwala, the vampire king, poses no such problem; in him there is no moral ambiguity. He revels in his own power and absence of any human moral compass. My inability to sympathise with her may be my fault, I think, not the author’s. My own novels created a model of a vampire who assimilates into the human world as a survival technique; the vampire as good guy. Brandon Witt choses the more traditional vampire trope, the relentless predator for whom humans are nothing more than food. I’ve always felt that there is a lack of internal logic in these killer vampires, because my mind has trouble accepting the notion that the larger world wouldn’t notice all those mysterious deaths, and that constantly killing humans works against effective camouflage that will last for millennia–especially since blood is a renewable resource. And from this arises my consistent discomfort with the ambiguous Sonia, who is what she is, but is nonetheless expected to command our sympathy. We aren’t allowed to forget the Sonia that was – loving, charming, a good friend. Clearly, Witt loves Sonia’s character, and I confess that I almost did. Almost. Nonetheless, her presence in the final third of the trilogy matters, and as readers we simply have to embrace Sonia’s truth or lose our way. In the end, liking Sonia isn’t important: understanding her is what counts.
The action really picks up in this book, and I found it to be a compulsive read. The final cataclysm is both satisfying and puzzling—there is a deux-ex-machina plot device that both intrigued and annoyed me. And, while the ending in this book is not a cliffhanger, exactly, it left me with mixed feelings. I wanted more closure, particularly in regard to Brett’s future. But there are promises of more books dealing with other characters whom we’ve met along the way. Even though I’m not really done with Brett or Finn, I confess that I look forward to the next saga from Witt’s Men of Myth.