This is the sixth and (presumably) final book in the Codex Alera series. They definitely need to be read in order, starting with Furies of Calderon.
A few weeks ago, I was a bad boy and bought a couple of books in hardcover instead of waiting for them to come out in paperback, after Larry informed me that their paperback release dates were later than I'd somehow become convinced they were. This was one, and perhaps my experience with reading it is the punishment I earned. The story arc had been so firmly established that where we'd eventually end up was obvious and inevitable. The process of getting there, though, had so much chaos and blood that I just didn't get into the story the way I did into the earlier books. I don't think it's really very different in feel from the others. There's always been so much going on that I could only barely hang onto the sense of it, but I came out of the the earlier volumes with a rush of "wow, what a ride" even though I felt like I missed a fair bit as it whizzed by. Somehow this one went over the tipping point and just overwhelmed me, leaving exhausted and feeling much more nearly "thank God it's over". Really, there was a lot more to this story than the battles, and some of it would be worth chewing on. But for me, at least this particular week, there was just too much blood and exploding, and the stuff I really wanted to read was just squeezed into the cracks.
6 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Tavi leads the Canim refugee fleet to Antillus and beats the small (relatively speaking) Vord force there. He's fully in communication with Alera the goddess, who is letting him see what's happening all over. She's also dying; her existence is bound to the works of the Aleran civilization and too much of those have been destroyed, particularly a prime focus in the capital. But it took a long time to create her and it will take a long time for her to die. Tavi realizes that he has to beat the Vord Queen, and to do it he has to get to her, with enough force to matter. It can't be done, so of course he comes up with an impossible solution. He treats in secret with the Icemen, giving them ownership of the Shieldwall in return for their assistance. Then he calls up a severe winter storm in the middle of spring (despite warnings from Alera that this will fuck up the weather for centuries: if the Vord win there won't be anyone for the weather to matter to) and turns the fleet into ice boats that, with magic, go really fast along the north side of the Shieldwall. The main Aleran force regroups at Riva, and the Vord army masses and beats them. But Bernard pulls the first ace out of his sleeve and presents it to Aquitaine, acting First Lord: He's been building the whole Calderon Valley into a fortress against the Vord the whole time since the threat emerged. The Alerans fall back one wall at a time. They kill millions of Vord with their new weapon -- magic fire bombs launched by catapults which allow a bunch of ordinary Alerans to heave as much fiery death as one of the High Lords. But they are still vastly outnumbered and slowly losing. Tavi wins his way there and starts fighting the Queen. He goads her into following her to Garados and wakes up the Great Fury. She tries to bind it, and he breaks the binding. This has finally weakened her so much that Tavi and Kitai beat her, turning the Vord army from an implacable organized force into an unguided mob of starving monsters that attack the nearest thing in sight. (Oh, they're starving because Tavi has torched their supply lines.)
Along the way, we spend a fair bit of time with the Vord Queen. She somehow got contaminated with Tavi and Kitai's blood in the battle back in the first book, which allowed her to take on some human characteristics. Her understanding of humans made her more dangerous as she started to learn furycraft and use human slaves more effectively, but it also was the weakness that let the world have a chance. The other Vord Queens see her as tainted and instinctively try kill her, which is why she's on this continent alone and they are on Canea. If she'd been able to produce additional queens, the Vord would have won. Her trying to understand human feelings of love and connection to others are interesting.
Fidelias finds redemption. As Valiar Marcus, he's become a hero, but Magnus eventually spots him and unmasks him. Tavi has him crucified, but Kitai makes him see that he's wasting something valuable. Tavi cuts him down from the cross and says that he will keep him alive and buy something useful with his death. Marcus returns and ends up surviving the big fight. Tavi says that his sentence is that Fidelias ex Cursori is dead, dishonored and executed as a traitor, but as Valiar Marcus he must continue to serve.
Invidia proves herself irredeemable in the end; even when she has a chance to betray the Queen and survive, she's too cowardly.
"Happily ever after" includes Amara finally getting pregnant -- it seems she got poisoned by the Vord, and the treatment with the Blessing of the Night magic fungus fixed her infertility. Kitai had briefly become estranged from Tavi when she realized that Tavi wasn't treating her, by Aleran standards, as a respectable woman. She's pregnant. She turns the fight against the Vord Queen into her Marat wedding challenge. At the end of the book, they are legally married Aleran style and their child is born.