Desert Isle Keeper
The Immortal Heights
The Immortal Heights is the final book in Sherry Thomas’ YA fantasy Elemental Trilogy, and brings to a very satisfying conclusion the story of Prince Titus of the House of Elberon and Iolanthe Seabourne begun in The Burning Sky and continued in The Perilous Sea. I don’t normally read Young Adult fiction, but I’m a huge fan of the author’s, so her name on the cover was enough to get me reading. And once I started, I was completely hooked, because the whole trilogy is utterly compelling and I can say without hesitation that this series surely represents a pinnacle of achievement in the genre. It’s Sherry Thomas – so it goes without saying that the writing is superb – but she has also crafted a terrific adventure story which incorporates one of the most deeply felt and beautiful romances I’ve ever read.
This is one of those times when it really is necessary to read all the books in order so that the story can be fully appreciated; and as neither of the first two books has been reviewed here, I’m going to talk about all three of the books in this review.
For as long as he can remember, Prince Titus of the Royal House of Elberon and Master of the Domain has known of the prophecy that he will, one day, defeat the cruel and tyrannical High Commander of Atlantis (otherwise known as The Bane) and free his people from fear and oppression. He will not, however, perform this onerous task alone; in fact his will be rather a secondary role as his task is to protect, at all costs, the great elemental mage who will actually do the deed. As he is just sixteen, the Domain is ruled by a regent (Titus’ uncle, who is little more than an Atlantean puppet), and Titus has been allowed to attend a non-mage school – Eton College in Victorian England. He has prepared well for the coming of the mage, inventing a persona and weaving various spells among his housemates so that when the mage eventually arrives, it will seem as though he has always been there. But Titus, a young man who has spent his life in preparation – learning how to fight both physically and with extremely complicated magic, learning everything he can about healing, about all forms of magic, about… basically, everything and anything – has forgotten to take into account one thing. He hadn’t given a thought to the fact that the most powerful elemental mage of their time … might be a girl.
When she’d summoned a bolt of lightning to revive a failing batch of elixir, Iolanthe Seabourne had never imagined it would throw her into the path of danger, adventure and destiny. The Burning Sky basically tells the story of how Titus and Iolanthe – who assumes the identity of Archer Fairfax at Eton – progress from their initial wariness and distrust to form an unbreakable bond of friendship and loyalty as they work together to confront the forces of Atlantis in what turns out to be the first skirmish of what will later turn into a full-scale conflict.
The Perilous Sea is perhaps the most romantic book of the three, as Titus and Iolanthe find themselves inexplicably in a situation where they have no memories of their past or of each other. Watching them falling in love all over again is a real delight, but Sherry Thomas doesn’t let up on the action front, skilfully interweaving narratives in dual time-lines that gradually converge to let the reader – and the protagonists – in on the secret as to how they got to where they started out. In the course of this story, Titus makes a discovery that turns everything he thought he knew upside-down, causing heartbreak for himself and Iolanthe, and raising the stakes as the final confrontation looms ever closer.
The Immortal Heights picks up exactly where The Perilous Sea leaves off – with Titus, Iolanthe and their fellow rebels declaring war on the might of Atlantis. Ms Thomas writes the action sequences very well, making it easy for the reader to get a clear picture of what’s going on amid the myriad of flying carpets, armoured chariots and flying wyverns, floating fortresses, ancient libraries and castle strongholds. But running beside all the magic and the action is the incredibly well-written, tender romance between the mage and the prince that began in the first book. Sherry Thomas is a consummate writer of romance, so once again, it’s no surprise that the relationship between Titus and Iolanthe is such an important part of the overall story, and it’s probably the element I enjoyed the most. Having two teenaged protagonists necessitates a less explicit romance, perhaps, but it’s certainly not without its heated moments and the chemistry between the couple is palpable. Both protagonists are engaging, fully-rounded characters who, while possessed of a maturity beyond their years, never come across as adult characters written into younger bodies. Titus is, it has to be said, a hero to swoon over – he’s handsome, fiercely intelligent, authoritative, witty and deeply loyal, with an underlying vulnerability and deeply-buried sweetness that he only ever allows Iolanthe to see. Above all, he is determined to fulfil the prophecy and free his people, even though, according to that prophecy, he will die in the fight. He has lost so much – his mother, his freedom, his childhood – but he has accepted his fate and all he wants is to protect Iolanthe and for her to live a long, happy life. Needless to say, she does not share Titus’ views about that – even when he tells her, in The Burning Sky she is to save herself and not worry about him when they get into tricky situations, she will have none of it and is as determined to keep him safe as he is determined to do the same for her. She is the perfect foil for him – just as intelligent, strong and determined as the prince, but with a more optimistic outlook that complements Titus’ more driven approach, and which starts to loosen him up a bit. This is a couple who are truly devoted to each other; they support each other without question, and the fact that they have reached a point when they don’t need words to express their feelings is truly affecting.
The story itself explores some complex themes, and while there are some elements which no doubt occur in many YA fantasies (like the baddie seeking immortality), I haven’t read enough of them for it to feel samey; so for me, this whole trilogy was a refreshing departure from my normal reading fare. I teared up several times while reading, and was genuinely sorry when I reached the final page. If Ms Thomas ever decides to take up the story of the mage and her prince again – and there are hints of other exploits in the epilogue – then I’ll be at the front of the queue with the grabbiest hands.
The Immortal Heights is a worthy successor to the earlier books, and a terrific conclusion to a hugely enjoyable trilogy. The fantasy/adventure story is very well thought-out and executed, but ultimately, it’s the strong bonds of friendship and trust that develop between the small group of central characters, the excellent dialogue, and the heartfelt romance that make this series into something special.