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The Final Sacrifice by Patricia Bray
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Harriet Klausner
Spectra Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553588781
Date: 24 June 2008 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Brother Nikos thought to be the power behind the emperor, tried transferring the soul of the dying monk Josan into the body of the heir apparent Prince Lucius. The spell did not work as expected because after a decade the soul of Lucius returned to its original body. Thus the souls of two different men inhabit one body; that of the now Emperor. Brother Nikos was exiled; the last that was heard of him was that he resided in expansionist country, Vidrun.

While Josan concentrates on his ruling duties, Lucius prefers to be the playboy prince he once was. The original royal is ill tempered and petulant while the monk is frustrated as he cannot end the spell; however the spell is weakening leading to the shared body having wild fits and temporary paralysis as each soul tries to dominate. For periods of time, one goes dormant frightening the other with a fear of loneliness and no functioning body. Josan studies all the library's magical tomes until he concludes they must journey to Xandropal where the Learned Brethren possess the largest book collection in the Ikarian Empire.

Lucius-Josan pretends to be going to an isolated villa for the summer, but in reality, Josan convinces a monk to go with him to the Imperial ship. He beats the monk unconscious and takes his clothing and masquerades as him. He plans in the monk's persona to go to the Brethren library with a written request from the emperor asking them to allow the monk to use their facility. Lady Ysobel, a Sendat spy and diplomat, learns that the emperor is traveling alone; with her bodyguards she follows him. At first he denies he is the emperor when she accosts him, but circumstances force him to use signature magic that reveals his identity.

What look like Ikanian ships attack Federation vessels, but the assault armada are actually from Vidrun disguised as Ikarians. They hope to start a war between Sendat and Ikaria. Josan goes to Sendat to prevent the hostilities and see if they can ally against the common enemy Vidrun. Meanwhile back home, others plot to take the throne insisting the emperor is dead.

This is the final book in a trilogy (see The Sea Change and The First Betrayal) and like the previous tales The Final Sacrament can be read by itself although reading the previous entries enhance the experience as background on how Josan got to where he is now. Though the action is somewhat limited, as the heart of the third tale is the characters; especially Josan the scholar who feels responsible as a benevolent and just ruler trying to take care of his people. On the other hand Lucius is spoiled and rightfully angry as he lost his body for a decade and now shares what is rightfully his. Josan gives up his chance to right the spell that is going wrong because of a greater need than his life or soul; whereas Lucius is willing to kill Josan to end their dichotomy though he realizes the insanity of murdering the other soul might mean he dies too. Ironically Josan agrees with Lucius that he is the rightful emperor and before the Vidrun crisis was willing to die to right the wrong. When he changes direction, the pampered Lucius goes berserk as he wants sole possession of the body soonest and the well being of his people do not matter as much to him.

Lady Ysobel is a powerful person in Sendat who once she learns the emperor's secret, goes from horror to pity to caring for Josan. She also admires his attitude as he is indifferent to power, which makes her look deep inside her own soul and not like what she sees. In her way she tries to help Josan who has earned her loyalty as he did with the military of the two countries.

When he vanishes, two powerful men with ambitions to rival Ysobel, are ready to take the empire to civil war over who is the rightful emperor once they declare Lucius dead. Mindful of the post Julius Caesar ruling debate, the Ikarian Empire in many other ways models the Roman Empire, as Patricia Bray provides a strong epic fantasy starring a fascinating hero in a politically divided realm on the brink of internal and external hostilities.

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