Book Review – The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Book: The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Author: Michael Wallace

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Part of a Series: Yes, The Dark Citadel

Spoiler Warning.

Sorry if the books run together. I did read them back to back.

The Dark Citadel Omnibus is the collection of five novels about a fantasy war. They are The Dark Citadel, The Free Kingdoms, The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards.

It starts off with the main protagonist, Darik in his home in the khalifate of Balsalom. His house is raided and he and his sister are sold into slavery in order to pay off his father’s debts. Through luck, they are bought by a local baker at the request of two other slaves Markel and Whelan. Before long, Markel, Whelan, and Darik manage to escape their master and Darik learns that his two companions are spies from the Free Kingdoms, a neighboring country.

As they escape, the city comes under siege from the dark wizard Cragyn. The sultana, Kallia, is captured, forced to marry, and raped. Despite all of this, she bides her time until the majority of Cragyn’s forces move out to continue their conquest. At that point, she launches a counterattack and reclaims her city.

Darik and company, meanwhile, travel just ahead of the enemy army en route to the Free Kingdoms to warn Whelan’s brother, King Daniel. While traveling, they are forced to escape a mountain fortress on the backs of griffins where Darik meets the griffin rider Daria. She helps him soar through the air and delivers him safely to the other side of the mountains.

As Cragyn’s forces approach, Whelan must convince his ailing brother to gather the armies of the Free Kingdoms. Unfortunatly, he is being opposed by the wizard Chantmer, Markel’s superior in the wizarding order. Eventually, forces are gathered near the town of Sleepstock where an epic battle is fought between men and wizards, griffin riders and dragons. The people of the Free Kingdoms are betrayed, however, as Chantmer helps to summon a great magical beast to battle the dragons only to have it turn on the armies instead. The Free Kingdoms are forced to withdraw to the capital where they hold their final defense.

Good prevails in the battle and our heroes defeat Cragyn’s army. Chantmer is bested by his order and forced to flee as well. The Free Kingdoms ends with Daniel abdicating the throne in favor of Whelan, Markel finding himself at the head of the wizarding order, and Darik able to join the Knights Temperate, an elite group that offers him forgiveness for the crime of escaping slavery.

Flash forward a few months and The Golden Griffin sees our heroes attempting to clean up after the battle with Cragyn. The dragons are still a threat which Daria and her griffin riders are trying to fight. Darik rides with the Knights Temperate to clear out the remaining pockets of resistance who didn’t flee. While doing so, he discovers a new threat. Not only are the dead rising to fight against the living, but Cragyn was merely a host for the wizard Toth, a powerful dark wizard who nearly broke the world centuries ago.

When Whelan hears of this, he gathers his armies and marches towards the Dark Citadel in order to put an end to this threat once and for all. Markel, meanwhile, continues to chase down Chantmer with Darik’s help. Darik finds that he is able to use magic and spends the journey learning his new skills.

In Balsalom, Kallia is reorganizing her city for the war effort. She has married Whelan, both for love and politics…and as an attempt to hide the fact that she carries Toth’s child in her womb.

In her attempts to end the threat from the dragons, Daria is presented with an unlikely opportunity. While escaping from a horde of dragon wasps, baby dragons, she leads them into a pack of wild, golden griffins. One griffin is injured in the fight, and Daria takes the opportunity to try and tame the creature while helping it heal. When she does, she becomes the first of her people to ride the powerful golden griffins.

The Warrior King sees the armies of the Free Kingdoms and khalifates marching towards the Dark Citadel. As they fight through Toth’s armies, Markel and Darik close in on Chantmer. The betrayer is hiding in a rival khalifate, learning the khalifate style of magic while also planning a coup that will place the long-lived wizards in charge of society. Politics and intrigue abound in the khalifate as the Free Kingdoms attempt to negotiate a treaty while Chantmer prepares his move.

As Whelan approaches the Dark Citadel, he finds that his brother Roderick was killed and reanimated by Toth to lead the dark wizard’s forces. The two brothers are forced to fight, unfortunately for Whelan, his sword Soultrap, a magical blade that traps the souls of the people it kills, is struggling against him. The evil influence of the souls of Toth’s armies are trying to turn the will of the blade against Whelan. During the fight, Roderick is able to temporarily resist the commands of Toth and manages to sacrifice himself on Whelan’s sword. His soul, now trapt in the blade, tips the balance and allows Whelan to use it for good.

War of Wizards is the final fight against Toth. As he sits atop his Dark Citadel, Toth sacrifices the innocent people of his kingdom in order to fuel his dark ritual. This ritual raises an army of wights, tortured souls who seek to avoid the Harvester and kill the living.

Darik has returned to Balsalom and helps to manage the defenses of the city against the wights that are coming to claim Kallia’s child for Toth. With the aid of Chantmer, they manage to hold out against the undead army, hoping that Whelan can end the war on his front.

At the Dark Citadel, Whelan and Markel lay siege to Toth’s fortress. They manage to breach the walls just as the dragon reappears. Daria swoops in on her golden griffin with the rest of her griffin riders to battle the dragon while the armies burst into the city. Whelan and Markel climb the Dark Citadel where they meet Toth and kill him.

Unfortunately, that was part of Toth’s plan. His soul flees his body and travels to Balsalom where it tries to take root in the child Kallia just gave birth to. Through powerful magic, the Harvester is summoned to the room where the god of the dead is able to gather Toth’s soul and end the threat. In a moment of compassion for the living, the Harvester grants a new soul to the child so that it can grow and live a normal life. Darik leaves fighting behind him and travels north with Daria to find a new land for the griffin riders to settle.

So first off….the first two books in this series were pretty good. The last three kind of plodded along. All in all, it was fine, but it felt like Dark Citadel and Free Kingdoms ended the story only to have the author keep it going. It really didn’t pick back up until the second half of War of Wizards minus a few scenes throughout.

This series also felt like it could belong in the young adult category. It was a fairly simplistic writing style, the arcs were decent enough, but most of the struggle seemed to be about the boy Darik finding his place in the world and who he was. I don’t say this to be disparaging of it, just that it felt like it was being billed as more than what it was.

Of course, there are issues with the main focus being on Darik and his struggles. The biggest one is that Darik was a pretty passive protagonist. On the one hand, I kind of like the fact that he wasn’t the big hero, that he was secondary to the larger characters. That works well in some stories. It didn’t really fit with this one though.

The best example I can think of where the protagonist wasn’t the hero was The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford. With that book, the hero was Xenophon, while the protagonist was more of an aid. That book also stuck with one point of view. We saw the events solely through the protagonist’s eyes. The Dark Citadel follows multiple points of view. This makes Darik’s story weaker because we spend just as much time with the actual heroes, with actual power, that we don’t really need Darik’s experience. He is usually just along for the ride.

Of course, there is also the elephant in the room of Chantmer feeling like a Saruman rip off. Powerful wizard, turns evil, betrays his order. I mean, reading the book, my image of Chantmer was of Christopher Lee wandering around the desert.

Despite all of that, the books are fun. Yeah, they end up being a tad formulaic. Yeah, it follows a lot of the epic fantasy tropes of put everyone in the worst situation for a last-minute save, but it was still a fun journey. Ultimately, I recommend The Dark Citadel and the Free Kingdoms. The last three books you can read if you want.

I award The Dark Kingdom and The Free Kingdoms the Iron Stash (4/5) and The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards the Bronze Stash (3/5). I award the Dark Citadel Omnibus the Bronze Stash (3/5).

Let me know your thoughts. And remember that I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.

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