Third, and currently last, in the series, Master of the House of Darts once again follows Acatl as he investigates threats to the empire, and the mortal world itself. A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the series. Acatl is the High Priest for the Dead, who in his duties of ushering the dead to his master also does his best to keep people from messing with the boundaries that protect the world. Magic is real, gods are accessible (on their own terms of coarse), and blood fuels many things. Told in the first person, the book follows Acatl in his investigations.
Building off events of the second book, we learn that the coronation war for the new Reverend Speaker Tizoc-tzin was a disaster, not bringing in near enough captives for sacrifice. The Reverend Speaker is a weak, paranoid man, yet his coronation necessary to keep the boundaries safe. Thus matters are made worse during the celebration, when one of the captives falls to a illness. Tizoc-tzin sees it as a slight at best, a plot at worst, and Acatl is called in to investigate. He once again face hostile witnesses, political infighting, and magical enemies. Worst of all, some of the blame for the sickness may fall in his own lap.
Personally, I found this to be the best book of a very good series. The same positives from the first two books are still present, a very easy to read writing style(easy to read but not simple or dumbed down), a quick pace, and some incredible world building, incredible accessibility despite the lesser know pantheon and names. Even though the second book dealt with a possible end to the world, Master of the House of Darts took a similar fate and did it better. Perhaps this was because in many ways it felt more like a fantasy book than a mystery book, which lends itself better to the “save the world” type story. The magic felt more organic here, it was never used as a crutch, or perhaps it was just better explained. There was a bit less traveling this time around, which also led to a tighter story. The ending involved several confrontations that were tense and believable, including some between people who are supposed to be allies
Perhaps it is because I am more familiar with the characters three books in, but I felt several were seen at their best in this book. Acatl continues to build on his improvements from the second book, and is now more secure with his place than ever. Which is good, because as usual he is surrounded by people who are only friends if it helps their own cause. Nezahaul-tzin is back from the second book, still infuriating Acatl, but still helping in small ways. I have grown to enjoy any chapters with Acamapichtli, one time enemy of Acatl, whose master of political manners are in direct contrast to Acatl, who finds the politicing to be the worst part of his job. Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, has a larger presence in this book, and makes the most of it. She is one of the most resourceful characters in the book.
The book is at its’ weakest when it is following conventions of the mystery genre. Constant dead ends in the investigation have started to get repetitive after three books. The “cryptic message” trope is also overused. Is there any reason that not one person cooperates fully with Acatl? Especially those innocent of wrong doing? But as this book is more focused on the weakening of the boundaries, this is a minor squabble at most.
There was also one plot point that seemed to rely on knowledge that I am not privy too. It was brought up that Acatl’s order was forced to expel many of the female followers, making it currently an all male priesthood. I know there were several short stories published before the novels, and wonder if the details are are in one of them.
All said, this was a great end to the series.