Score 94+/100 (9.4+ out of 10)
Sword Above All by Domenic Melillo is the thrilling, action-packed, emotional finale to the Season of the Swords trilogy. It concludes the perilous yet fascinating journey of the Cincinnatus family through multiple times and places throughout world history in the quest to defeat the demon Azazel and his followers, the Leviathan Alliance.
One thing is for sure, this book had big shoes to fill. The previous books were tough acts to follow, all stellar adventure stories. How are you going to top going to Thermopylae to help King Leonidas of Sparta survive his fateful battle with the Persians? How are you going to top trying to prevent the assassination of JFK? How are you going to top meeting Joan of Arc, Cicero, and Benjamin Franklin? Those are very tough acts to follow.
Yet, this book succeeds admirably at providing us with new, fresh, and exciting interactions and experiences including with a young Boudicca (before becoming queen), Joseph of Arimathea, Malchus (yes, the temple guard who is believed to have gotten his ear cut off by Peter), Josephus, Enoch (the man who never died), and more.
This book follows the Cincinnatus/Arimathea boys (and even the girls, as we will explore later) as they attempt to rescue their grandmother, Catherine, from the clutches of Azazel. Meanwhile, Azazel's forces have grown strong, bringing about an apocalyptic war to slaughter and enslave humanity, opposed by our protagonists and a resistance of freedom fighters. The situation grows increasingly worse and the casualties grow. All the while, our heroes are plagued by the thought that their interventions and interference in the timeline may have contributed to the horrors that are befalling the world, and they worry about the safety and treatment of Catherine under Azazel's captivity. So, this book definitely seems to have the biggest and clearest stakes in the trilogy. There seems to be a lot less room for the characters to explore, enjoy, and have fun on their adventure when the world and a close loved one are in danger.
Other books in the series had a strong Judeo-Christian leaning, but this book dives all-in with it. Either you're on board with it by now or you're not, but it won't entirely mar your experience if you're not. Whereas the other books in the series took our protagonists into times and places where Judaism and Christianity were either rare or unheard of (like Ancient Sparta and Rome), this book seems much more focused on events and locations relevant to Christianity. Even Ireland and Stonehenge are given significance in a Christian context. It's still rather interesting. You can't help but a bit amused (if not outright fascinated) by the what-if scenarios, revelations, and mysterious aura . For example, it's a fascinating concept that Stonehenge might be one of the locations at which the demons (fallen angels) fell to Earth. It's interesting to read about a hypothetical Ireland before St. Patrick's debacle with the snakes. There are a lot of mysterious boxes to unravel and unwind in this book, and it can be rather fun.
This book does a lot of things right when it comes to the characters. In previous books, there were a lot of times when the boys and their relationships were difficult to distinguish or determine. It was difficult, sometimes, to tell them apart, especially when they were almost always presented in an idealized light. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, since it showed that the boys acted and thought as a team or a unit.
Here, Robbie, Jeff, Joe, Billy, Nick, and Ty each have moments that help them to stand out. There is an instance in which Robbie, who'd been a calm and collected leader in this past, was drawn to anger and lost his composure, particularly considering the peril that Catherine is in. We can tell that there are times when he feels frustrated, powerless, or even desperate. Ty continues being a running joke who needs to use the restroom often, but we see him try his best to mount a running horse despite its great difficulty while also getting the hint that Ty isn't the little pushover that we thought he was (based on his often goofy personality). He's actually a pretty big guy with physical gifts. Nick has an awesome moment in which he intervenes on behalf of Boudicca, preventing a needless act of bloodshed and violence. That's something that got us cheering and on his side.
Still, the character who you're inevitably going to get behind is Robert Ogilvie Petrie, the Gray Champion, who continues to be a bad$&%, cool character akin to someone like Auron from Final Fantasy X or Obi-Wan from Star Wars, a grizzly old veteran who seems to always be on top of things.
Probably the best thing about this book is the prominent presence of the girls and women in the family (along with Boudicca). There was something that was lacking in the previous books, and we couldn't quite put it together. After reading this book, we figured out that the series had been lacking a certain feminine touch or at least a lasting feminine presence. Yes, there was Elizabeth at the beginning of World War II, and there was Grandma Catherine, but they were characters who came and went. This book is the first time when the female characters are allowed to steal the show, so to speak, and be front and center. And they do this tactfully, without being hyper-feminist or becoming boorish Mary Sues.
Susan delivers one of the best, most emotional, and inspiring speeches we've ever read—likely the highlight of the entire book. Carolyn uses her skills as an artist. Ellie uses her skills as a songwriter. Alex uses her skills as a digital designer. All of them have something unique to bring to the table.
Azazel as a character/villain is one of the contentious and noteworthy topics with this book and the series. First of all, we're so glad that this series has a powerful, over-arching villain. For some reason, many authors have forgotten that one of the best ways to create drama is to have a clear and compelling villain or antagonist.
This is probably the most we get to see of Azazel in the series, but even then, it's not much. There was a part of us that empathized with him a little. Yes, he was corrupting, killing, and enslaving people. Yes, he abducted an elderly lady. But... at least he let her have some light to be able to see, and it's not like he was particularly brutal to her. Going back to the light thing, that might be some subtle character work. Azazel, according to the Book of Enoch and implications in other texts (implied in The Bible itself) was largely believed to be a Watcher demon whose punishment involved being trapped in complete darkness until judgment day. So, he was a being who could probably empathize with being stuck in darkness and not being able to see anything. Otherwise, most of the time, he's almost cartoonishly evil, somewhat like a Power Rangers villain who sits on the side somewhere and sends monsters to do their dirty work.
Azazel kinda disappears from the story whenever the characters are doing their quantum traveling. You could make the argument that his evil influence is present everywhere that the characters go, but it's easy to forget that when you're more focused on the tasks the characters have on hand. Not only is it easy to forget that Azazel is out there being villainous, but it's even easy to forget that Catherine is in peril sometimes. It's a little strange that we don't quite hate or even fear Azazel after everything he put the characters (and humanity) through over the course of these three books. In our minds, he's just kinda... there. He's there to serve a purpose: to be the bad guy.
By this point, it's difficult to feel like our heroes can't succeed. They just have too many hack abilities (many of which are given to them by the Swords of Valor). Furthermore, they have God on their side. They almost seem like Power Rangers, no matter how big the enemy is, no matter how many there are, they're able to reach into their deep well of tricks, powers, and plot armor to defeat them. It almost feels like a forgone conclusion. But, hey, The Bible kinda feels like that too. There's a 0% chance that God is actually going to lose, but there's a pretty good chance that bad/unfortunate things are going to happen on the way there.
Somehow, the author was still able to stick the landing and give us a bit of a bittersweet ending.
There are consequences to the events of the series, thankfully. Things happen that aren't necessarily ideal. We say a tear-jerking goodbye to some old characters and say hello to some new ones. There are a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns. There are a plethora of lessons learned and virtues demonstrated for the characters and the audience.
This book also features the coolest weapon in the series (which is saying a lot): the Sword of Judgment, a golden sword capable of bringing about divine judgment.
Ultimately, this is a terrific book series, particularly for young adults. Not only does it follow a cast of mostly young characters, it also shows us some exciting events throughout history and teaches some incredible life lessons. Furthermore, it does so without the use of foul language or excessive violence. Even the most violent scenes are treated with tact and care, never seeming exploitative or insensitive. We highly recommend this series!
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