I was lucky enough to be granted an early review copy of Remember the Dust, the third and final book in E. Jade Lomax’s “Leagues and Legends” series. As the book dropped yesterday, here are some of my thoughts. Mild spoilers, but nothing plotbreaking, I think. My review of Beanstalk, the first book in the series, can be found here; thoughts on the second book, Echoes of a Giantkiller, are here. The series follows a group of heroes as they go through training and begin their careers as official adventurers, building a family that changes and grows through each installment.
Remember the Dust picks up a while after the end of the second book, with Laney and Jack working as Junior Agents in the “quiet branch” of the Bureau, running espionage and special ops missions to clear out the remnants of the mage slave trade. Through each mission and in their off-time, they search for their friend Rupert, who was kidnapped and locked away at the end of Echoes. The cast has now been transplanted to St. John’s Port, home of Bureau Headquarters and the Academy, where Grey has found his dream job in the library and George the Dragon Slayer is settling in as a student.
Lomax maintains her heavy focus on characterization and developing the theme of identity. Early on, she introduces a character arc for Cassandra Graves, a major antagonistic presence through the first two books, that dances around redemption while constantly engaging her past involvement in the mage slave trade. Lomax makes clear that, even if Cassandra were interested in redemption, it is not truly an option for her in the eyes of society and her victims. The gradual breakdown of the character is sympathetic, but firm, and ends in an ambiguity that I sincerely hope may one day spin off into short stories or one-shots about her further development. The relationship between Jack and Cassandra, encapsulated by their final confrontation “on these chill dirt streets, in the city he’d come to in order to get away from the story she had helped write,” pushes the theme that, however we choose to change ourselves, or our circumstances conspire to change us, the story we’ve written for ourselves never just vanishes. Our characters are a palimpsest of who we choose to be now written over every person we’ve chosen to be in the past.
Indeed, while past books have examined the concept of dual identity, Remember the Dust addresses loss and reconstruction. As referenced above, Cassandra’s perception of the world unravels, slowly but inexorably, until her exit from the story. At the start of the book, Rupert has been removed from the circumstances and environment that formed his identity and must grasp for stability. Each character contends with a similar blow and, in the aftermath, must reassert their sense of self. In an extreme case, the antagonists introduce a curse that wipes the identity of a character from the collective memory of the world. Who are you when all that’s left to your identity is the impulses your past self developed, divorced from the context of how they were formed? What shape do you leave in the world when the implicit truths of your life are wiped from waking memory? These questions dovetail nicely into a conversation about family, about who we tie ourselves to and what that means, beyond names and titles, while also revolving about the ever-important role of choice.
Remember the Dust maintains the series’ status as a bastion of representation, with characters falling along a spectrum of skin tones, sexualities, and gender identities. One of the best new characters (a biased designation – she’s my favorite of the cast) is a transgender woman and scientist, Jillit Chu. Jill is clever and resourceful, with a resolve of steel that brooks no excuses. At least two queer romances are firmly cemented in the supporting cast, and while the core characters remain unattached in a move that allows continued focus on their found family community, there is more than enough material for enterprising fans to read into.
One of the biggest strengths of Lomax’s writing is her ability to skirt the border between poetry and prose. Vivid imagery evokes sensation and emotion that serves an important role in scene construction and characterization, and when she’s on a roll, each word is an emotional punch to the gut. Several chapters contain breathtaking twists that are bolstered by this evocative style. The downside is that the pacing occasionally drags when action gets lost or sidetracked in description.
A defining attribute of the series, and part of its appeal, that carries through Remember the Dust, is its relentless hopefulness. Tragic things happen; characters die, are cursed, are forgotten. But throughout it all, they are met with progress, healing, and connection. The power of friendship does not explicitly save the day, because there will always be injustice to address, but the body count would be much higher without each character’s ability to connect across lines of race, culture, etc. Some argue that such an outlook is naive or childish, but the cynicism and grittiness of works that are praised for their “realism” are just as far removed. We deserve fantasy and science fiction writing that encourages progress and empathy over despair, and Lomax commits to just such a message.
Remember the Dust is a strong resolution to the narratives and themes Lomax weaves in the series. The final chapters merge dangling plot threads with final thematic statements on the meaning of home and family, while the final page’s mirroring of the very first page of the first book offers a definitive sense of closure and progress. While the execution has its flaws, the sincerity and depth of the world are irresistible; I, for one, will definitely be returning to Rivertown in the future. The books are free to download here.