So in August the fourth (and final, as far as I can tell) Jackaby book hit the shelves. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first three books, I was eager to reread them and then get the grand finale. So this is mostly going to be a review of The Dire King, with some thoughts about the series as a whole. The links go back to earlier reviews of the series (not this time around). When reviewing the final book of a series, it’s virtually impossible to avoid some spoilers, so the brief review is: 3/5 for Dire King and 4/5 for the series as a whole. I personally didn’t like the way a bunch of things concluded in Dire King, but that’s kind of a matter of personal opinion, as it technically worked. But in the end I was left with a lot more questions than answers, and felt like the plotting in the final book was rather sloppy, like Ritter was hoping that as long as there was enough action, the readers wouldn’t notice gaping holes in the logic.
I really wish that Ritter had stuck with episodic stories for this series. I still think the first book was the best of the bunch, and it was because it was a self-contained story. The further into The Grand Scheme that Ritter got, the sloppier the stories got, and the more it felt like he was only really interested in getting us to the final book. The Grand Scheme got really involved and complicated, while the concept of just writing paranormal mysteries with these characters would have been fantastic.
More thoughts below with mild spoilers…
I really enjoyed reading back through the three earlier books, and actually liked Ghostly Echoes better the second time around when I already had an idea of where things were going. (Maybe I’ll like The Dire King better if I reread it??) These books are just plain fun. The dialogue is hilarious, and Jackaby and Abigail are a brilliant combination of characters. There’s still a bit too much modern SJW talk, with women’s rights being handled in a very heavy-handed way, and the whole transgender thing in Ghostly Echoes that makes absolutely no sense within the context of the story and is quite obviously being inserted to show us how open-minded Ritter is. But I’m willing to overlook these types of things as long as the rest of the story holds up, and for the most part it does.
However, the further into the series we go, the more Ritter starts to build what I think of as The Grand Scheme. Many series – in fact, most – do this, but for me it only works if the small schemes aren’t sacrificed in the process. Each book should still be able to stand as a solid and engaging story on its own, and while it’s okay to have teasers leading into the next book/The Grand Scheme, it can be frustrating when it feels like I only got part of a story (I’m looking at you, Robin McKinley’s Pegasus). Ritter doesn’t quite do this, but he’s close, which is probably another reason that I enjoyed Ghostly Echoes more the second time around – it wasn’t as annoying of an ending when I had the final book right in front of me!
The thing is, it just started to feel like Ritter had bitten off more than he could chew with his Grand Scheme. All of a sudden we’re jumping in and out of fairy land and the land of the dead and we’ve got conflicting kingdoms and factions and all kinds of critters running around and it’s not really clear who is on which side and even if there are sides and there is this whole thing that’s going to apparently blow up the Veil that separates the physical world from the fairy world and there is this guy who can make zombies kinda and this little furry critter that gives cryptic advice and no one knows or really seems to care whose side he is on and then all of a sudden this one character who was kind of a minor character turns out to be the one who betrays everyone except when did she even meet the bad guy?? Like it felt extremely weird and was never explained how she even did what she did or why so her motivation makes literally zero sense and then in the end everyone apparently is just like Oh, okay, and they all go home??!? And what happened with the zombie guy? And apparently there was some guy who has been keeping the Veil safe for like hundreds of years and could live that long because he was wearing this magical gem but then he… took it off?? And died?? And the whole Veil started to collapse?? So why did he take it off??
Basically, the whole book made me kind of dizzy. Things were happening very quickly and strangely without any genuine explanations, and instead of there being this big epilogue that made everything make sense, there was an ending that I found to be VERY STRANGE and did not like AT ALL. The ending itself dropped the entire book a half star for me, like I could not get behind it at all.
So The Dire King was a bit of a letdown for me. It had its moments, but just didn’t pull things together the way I had anticipated. This series could have been a lot more fun and entertaining if Ritter had stuck with smaller stories that tied together instead of attempting to pull of a very complicated and involved Grand Scheme that just didn’t end up making a whole lot of sense. I still recommend the series as a whole, and definitely will be rereading it sometime in the future – and maybe will enjoy The Dire King more when I have a sense of where it’s headed. And I’ll be keeping an eye on Ritter to see what he decides to write next.