You are Yukiko...

As I look ahead to series I would like to start, I wanted to read the conclusion to THE LOTUS WAR TRILOGY and am very glad to have finally finished this adventure.

4/5 All of the issues from the previous books remain true in this third and final installment, but Kristoff manages to deliver on some much deserved payoff in the form of massive battle sequences, dramatic twists, and moments that were genuinely uplifting.  

As with the second book, ENSIGNER is a multiple POV affair with lots of switching between different characters. One thing that was a little different this time is that some sections follow more minor characters which gave the story an even more cinematic feel than previous books in the trilogy. Yukiko, Burru, Yoshi, Hana, Michi, Kin, and others all make their return alongside newcomers like Misaki. I felt like there was a little more depth to a lot of these characters this time around, largely due to the losses they have suffered and the sacrifices they have made to get to this point. Even though this is still very much Yukiko and Burru's story, I found myself just as invested in the rest of the cast. Yes, these are all still very tropey, anime-ish characters, but I love them for what they are and found myself sharing in all of their triumphs as well as their sorrows. 

On the less positive side, there are several fake-out deaths that threw me off a bit. I thought for sure one character was dead twice before they played an important part in the final battle and finally met their end there. There are also several side characters that seemingly died in the second book who come back to deliver a plot twist and then are unceremoniously killed off a little while later which felt quite odd. I also find Kristoff's sexualization of teenage characters (particularly girls) to be unnecessary and disturbing.

Things start off tense with the fate of the whole world hanging in the balance and the Kage rebellion left in disarray. I enjoyed all the turns that these early chapters took and how all of the POVs seemed to be marching in the same direction. Things do sort of branch out towards the middle part of the book and I worried that this would meander like the second book did. Thankfully, all of the branching character paths were interesting and came back together in a fulfilling way. The last third of the book or so is essentially one giant war in which all of the open threats against Shima converge onto one another. The Viking-like Gaijin, the forces of the Guild, Hiro's army, and even the depths of the hells come out to play. The action is absolutely some of the best I have ever read and I loved that we got such a massive payoff for all these sources of conflict. There are also some dramatic twists along the way that kept things fresh and tons of interpersonal drama amidst all the violence as well. I particularly loved the way that fate is explored, especially with the "What will be" that the Guild members believe in. In the end, I found the story's conclusion to be fittingly bittersweet. 

One thing that continues to hold the story back a bit is Kristoff's insistence on proving to us all that he is edgy. While he is definitely a master of creating tension and fear for his characters, I also just felt like he pushed things a little farter than they really needed to go at points. This combined with his failed attempts to make Shima feel authentically Japanese and his occasionally cringeworthy use of Japanese words (Banzai in particular) to keep this series from being as good as it can be in my eyes. 

While the story doesn't venture outside of Shima this time around, there are some new parts of it which are explored. The legendary kingdom of the Kitsune clan serves as a primary setting for a lot of the story and action while the exotic land of the Everstorm is finally visited. Even the dark depths of the Endsinger's realm are explored and I loved how much more mythological things got. I also quite liked some of the big reveals when it came to the Gaijin's culture and the odd magic that their religion is based on. Getting a better understanding of the Arashitora people was a treat to experience as well. I loved how all the worldbuilding also played an essential role to the book's plot. At no point did I feel like we were getting world building for world building's sake, which is something I very much appreciate. I will certainly miss spending time in this brutal and scarred world.

As with the previous two books, the hardcover edition is really quite beautiful. The Anime-inspired artwork on the dust jacket is the best in the series so far and the all black naked hardback with a silver-foiled title looks incredible on its own as well. The interior formatting with font choices and iconography/calligraphy remains spectacular and this is just a really visually striking trilogy overall.  

ENDSIGNER offers a fitting end to a tumultuous and often controversial series. If you're like me and enjoyed the previous two books in spite of their many flaws, then this will feel like a triumphant conclusion. If you were previously unable to look past it's shortcomings and misguided artistic choices, then, I doubt this will do anything to sway your opinion of the series. 

(+) A ton of exciting and vividly detailed battle sequences (some spanning multiple chapters)
(+) Deeper connections to the characters and their relationships
(+) Moments of crushing heartbreak
(+) Genuinely uplifting dialogue and scenes
(+) A large and varied cast of anime-ish characters
(+) All open threads are tied up in a satisfying way
(-) Fakeout character deaths that didn't always pay off
(-) Bizarre and sometimes cringy use of Japanese words
(-) Kristoff's need to prove to us all that he is an edge-lord


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