Just in case you didn’t get enough of Rangers battling for control of Sustagul in the last book, Never Shall I Fail chronicles the second battle of Sustagul. But this time, we see things in a different way, insofar as Talker has to learn to see things in a different way.
Lead the Way, book 6, was in part the apotheosis of Talker, when he finally accepted himself as worthy to be one of the Rangers he idolized. That book was also about the kind of courage needed to live the Creed. Book 7 is about another kind of courage, the courage to face another day when you know that your brothers won’t be there to see it with you. And another day, and then another.
Survivor’s guilt is a thing many men who go to war must deal with. But for Talker, there is more to it than that. In the Rangers, every man is a leader, and to be a leader means to acknowledge and accept the death of men you are responsible for, without being utterly crushed by it.
I cannot even begin to put into words how tremendously difficult this is. For Talker, this is the lesson he must learn, while still doing the rest of his duties of course. Which presents for him a temptation like no other, given that he has access to means of altering reality like no other.
If you have been following along with the methods of Anspach and Cole, you will know that very few things happen to Talker by mere happenstance, and suspect that help will be provided.
What happens has some clear precedents in literature, but is nonetheless so novel to me as to merit a mention. As part of the education of Talker, we get to see something like the vision of Purgatory imagined by C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, but in this case it is a place of gentle healing before seeing the beatific vision.
That differs a bit from tradition, which tells us that when the righteous suffer a horrible death, paradise awaits immediately. However, it might also be the case that all of this is not for the benefit of those who have already completed their journey in this vale of tears, but for Talker’s benefit, who has a job to do, and also needs some help getting his stuff together.
Talker must put aside his boyish notions of why he fights, as must all who pick up the sword. Only then will he be able to fulfill his mission. This is a theme of the whole of the Forgotten Ruin series, and in this volume Anspach and Cole have chosen to focus in on one specific element: how women motivate men to fight.
St. Thomas Aquinas famously placed his discussion of war under the heading of charity. In his view, to wage a just war is an act of love. This often presents a nearly impossible stumbling block for us moderns, who understandably view war as an expression of hate.
But as the Long Lifetime fades from living memory, so do all of the things that went with it. We no longer wage total war, or need to maintain the nation in arms by means of propaganda and other social technologies. What is left are the things that have always motivated men to fight: notions about a people, the men beside them, and the women behind them.
So as Talker must learn to accept the things he cannot [or should not] change in order to become a leader, to embrace the bonds of brotherhood even though it hurts, he must also accept that a dream of a quiet life with Autumn is not available to him, but that he must go on nonetheless without spiraling into despair and self-destruction.
This is not nice. This is not fair. But, it is in some sense destined to be. Talker must fight for love, even though his destiny will deny it to him in the ordinary sense.