Anthony Huso’s debut novel, The Last Page, is the first book of a duology. With its mixture of fantasy, steampunk, and horror elements, I expected to breeze through it in a matter of days. It took longer than I anticipated, but I felt rewarded for my patience.
The story centers on young Caliph Howl, a student trying his best to avoid graduating and returning to the Duchy of Stonehold where he is to become the High King. Caliph meets Sena, a sensual witch and heir to the Shradnae Witchocracy leadership, and they share an exciting romance. Sena and Caliph eventually graduate and leave to pursue separate agendas. Caliph returns to Isca, capitol city of the Duchy, where he begins his reluctant reign as High King. He learns alarming government secrets, is faced with a pending civil war, and finds himself at the center of political maneuvering. Meanwhile, Sena sets out on her search for the mysterious Cisrym Ta, a book whose pages possess powers unknown.
When the two lovers reunite, they must balance the complexities of their relationship, contend with the scheming of those around them, and face the deadly consequences of their individual pursuits.
The High King and the sexy witch
I would like to officially add Sena to my response in the discussion on The Ranting Forums of “Which Fantasy character would you date?” She is independent, strong, and sexy, but also struggles to understand her feelings for Caliph and questions her loyalties to the Witchocracy. Each of these issues is compounded by her tireless search for the meaning of the Cisrym Ta.
Although reluctant at first, Caliph adjusts surprisingly well to being High King. I had some trouble following Caliph’s storyline. It started off slower and at times he was overshadowed by other more interesting characters (spymaster Zane Vhortghast in particular), though scenes in which Caliph and Sena interacted are enjoyable and well written – and thankfully, occur frequently.
Crepuscular spiral staircase
I enjoy the thrill of discovering a new word. Unfortunately, with The Last Page, that thrill became a distraction. While Huso is an excellent author with unique descriptions and metaphors, I found myself constantly diverted by the sheer number of words I didn’t know. At first I would stop, grab my dictionary, and look them up, but when I did, I realized that much of what he was trying to say just didn’t make sense (“crepuscular spiral staircase” – say what?). Eventually, I decided to just read through. Huso’s fondness for obscure words and mixed metaphors hindered my comprehension of the story.
What the @$%^?
For all the effort and inventiveness Huso put into finding arcane words, the dialogue was overflowing with expletives. The F-bomb was dropped more often than necessary by almost every character, sometimes even when speaking with the High King! This often made the characters seem crass. The use of vulgarity in certain situations is understandable and necessary for realism, but there were times when it felt excessive. Huso even created some of his own expletives, like “Yella bryun” (mother’s sh**).
Dreadnoughts, holomorphy, chemostatic swords … oh my
Huso’s world is a blending of genres. Sprawling cities, blood magic, hideous creatures, chemical weapons, living meat: every page blossomed with the unexpected. His world was dark and fiendishly surprising. There were times when the world wasn’t as fleshed out as is common in most fantasy, though eventually I came to enjoy the lack of hand holding.
Why should you read this book?
The Last Page is a book that is best read knowing what to expect. I appreciated that Huso did not dump heaps of information into my lap; however, there were times when his lack of clear explanation, coupled with his excessive use of obscure words, made The Last Page a slow read at the start. The pace picked up significantly in the second half and new life was breathed into the book. Huso has woven together an interesting new genre-bending fantasy that will reward the patient reader (and those with voluminous vocabularies). I was glad I stuck with it.