In a perfect world, everyone has their beliefs and is never put in a position to have to compromise them; but none of us live in a world that is perfect. We are constantly having to adjust our attitudes to fit situations, to compromise in order to maintain or forward a cause. In Yarrow's world, in 'Iron and Ether' by Augusta Li, the same principle holds true. Yarrow and his friends and lovers have a lot of priorities that must be readjusted as the demands of the moment change, but the one thing they refuse to change is their love and their need to be together.
Yarrow has grown from an arrogant, fearful, angry boy to a more controlled, more responsible man. He's realizing that he can't go on unleashing his fury in order to feel strong and untouchable. For the first time in his life, he has two men who love and respect him; he's happy. The downside is, he tires more easily and is beginning to fear that without his anger, he will be much less powerful. Yarrow's challenge is going to be learning how to control his power while still maintaining it, learning to divert where it goes and what it affects, rather than just decimating everything in front of him. The mage knows that he has a long way to go, that he still has a lot of emotional problems to overcome; but at least now, he's trying to face them rather than bury them deep inside. This makes a world of difference. This new attitude spills over into his relationship with his lovers, making it easier for him to accept their love, comfort, and protection, bringing this trio closer than ever.
Duncan is as loving and caring as he ever was and his partners are finally able to accept it. He's always going to be idealistic and hope for the best, but his ideals have been tempered by difficult situations he's been in and it creates conflict in his soul. He loves both of his men dearly, but there are things about them that will always cause him distress. He's a warrior through and through, but he's also a fair person. He hates deception, yet his partners, especially Sasha, is nothing if not deceitful and Yarrow, as much as he loves him, is unstable and at times, heretical. Duncan is their rock. As idealistic as he is, his men adore him, and wish he could stay as good as he was when they first met, but he, like the other two, values their relationship more than anything in the world and will do what he has to to preserve it. Although still an exemplary human being, life has stolen away a lot of Duncan's idealism and enthusiasm.
Even though Sasha's loyalty to Duncan and Yarrow has alienated him from his brother assassins, he still feels a strong kinship with them. He's defined himself as an assassin since he was very young. Sasha is proud of his skills which he continues to hone on a regular basis. He enjoys his occupation and has no desire to stop. His association with Duncan and Yarrow has brought many changes to his life, especially in the area of feelings. Loving these men goes against the grain of everything he's been taught. He's constantly trying to balance and justify these emotions with the strict policy of the Brethren which teaches that feelings are weaknesses assassins can not afford to have, yet. Sasha doesn't want to live without them, regardless of the cost. If loving Yarrow and Duncan is a weakness, then he's determined to deal with it, because he's not giving up the feelings they arouse in him. He is resigned to finding a way to work around them while remaining efficient in his job.
There is a special place in my heart for Sai. When we first met this sweet man, he is carefree, happy, and definitely believes in free love. He believes in living for the moment and not worrying about the future. He is good natured, laid-back, and nonjudgemental. He meets everyone with open arms, has no interest in bureaucracy, and disdains authority of any kind. After his adventure with Yarrow, Sai changes. He becomes moody and despondent. When his friends need him, he's there to help however he can. Sai now acknowledges that he's not separate from the world around him; a problem to one is a problem to all. He becomes his people's leader although the concept is foreign to him and is a beacon of hope. When it comes down to a mission that only Sai can accomplish, he steps up without hesitation.
This is a powerful, almost overwhelming portrayal of the character of the men and women involved. It's written in a lyrical style which challenges the imagination as well as the emotions. To say it is well-written is an understatement. Although it's lengthy, I believe that every word needs to be there. There are many complex side stories, which Augusta ties together seamlessly. She doesn't pull any punches or make any apologies for her characters and their actions. She portrays war just as it is—fierce, bloody, cold, frustrating, and oh so needless in the first place. She doesn't gloss it over, making heroes of her men performing supernatural feats. Even her mage Yarrow has his limits and sometimes fails. There's still much to come in this series and I am looking forward to every word of it.
I recommend this tale to everyone, especially those who are already fans of the series and those who enjoy high magic, political subversion, intrigue, action, passion, intensity, and a realistic portrayal of life and death. Thanks, Augusta, for a heart-rending, intense, and uplifting experience.