The Last of the Ageless by Traci Loudin is a post-apocalyptic novel set three hundred years in the future on after an event referred to the Catastrophe. The events which led to the Catastrophe and since then have altered not only the planet but also the human species. Some humans can age back and forth at will. Others can shift into different kinds of animals. There is also a species known as the Joeys who are part alien and part human. But don’t worry, there are still the plain, old boring humans but they are now known as Purebreds. The novel centers around two groups each consisting of unlikely trios as they try to accomplish different objectives yet who are ultimately forced to come together and defeat a common enemy.
There is not a clear main character, but rather three: Dalan, a teenage Changeling which means he can transform into different animals; Nyr, a different kind of Changeling whose main form is a feline-human hybrid; and Korreth, a Purebred slave, who along with his friend Jorrim, have recently escaped their master. In addition to these three, we also see the story for a fourth character, Caetl, who is a mystic, but his actions don’t factor in too much until about half way through the novel.
The novel starts with Dalan who is heading away from his village to complete an annual rite of passage journey. During this journey, he must go out into the world alone to be chosen by a dragonfly as a companion and return safely home. However, even before he leaves his village he is told that his journey will also see him having to solve a problem. Nothing specific is told to him as to what that problem is so when very early on into his rite of passage journey, he encounters Nyr, an uneasy alliance forms between the duo after Dalan saves her. At first he believes he has solved the problem but something inside of me nags at him that he is not finished. Later on the duo encounter a Joey, Ti’rros, who he saves from death much to the annoyance of Nyr and the disappointment of Ti’rros. Ti’rros believes throughout the book that her actions, which led to her nearly dying, are too shameful for her to continuing living in the world.
Dalan is a sympathetic character whom I liked quite a bit. He is a good, naïve kid who is a firm believer in the Ancient teachings. After finding his dragonfly and saving two people’s lives, all he wants to do is return home but circumstances work to take advantage and even exploit his non-violent nature and morals.
The reader is introduced to Nyr when she stumbled upon Dalan. She is part of the Tiger Clan and is usually in her half-feline, half-human form. Her personality and background are a complete opposite from Dalan as she is angry and violent. Where she comes from, violence is normal and one of her ambitions is to do a hostile takeover of her clan. It is her clan which pops into the story once in a while which propels most of her story but with disastrous results.
She doesn’t like or trust Dalan and Ti’rros yet due to some necklaces she’s stolen from someone, they are bound together. Unknowingly, what she thought were just trinkets, trophies to brag about committing a misdeed, are what lead to her downfall. She has some idea something isn’t quite right with the necklaces since they act as some kind of shield when someone attempts to harm the wearer. To spread the love, she gives Dalan and Ti’rros each one which inadvertently seals their fates together.
Finally we have the other major character of Korreth. He and his friend Jorrim are former slaves who have escaped from their master. When we first meet him, he is still physically bond to Jorrim, something they are so used to that they have mastered how to move as well as create their own language via a serious of taps. Both Korreth and Jorrim want to return to their respective tribes because they are not from the same one. As Purebreds, they are the lowest form in this version of Earth
They come across a powerful woman called Soledad, who is one of the Ageless. An Ageless is someone who has been around far longer than the average lifespan because they can easily switch from child to old person and everything in between. This makes it incredibly difficult, but not impossible, to kill an Ageless because when injured, all they have to do is simple melt into a different, un-injured age. Soledad removes Korreth and Jorrim’s physical bonds only to bind them to her via magic spells. Now controlled by Soledad, they once again find themselves at the whims of a master who commands them to inflict violence and protect her.
Nyr and Soledad control where each trio goes and at first, our unlikely trios are on separate paths. Nyr and Soledad have their own agendas and neither cares about the welfare of their followers other than to keep them alive as long as it suits them. Although neither woman’s original plans should have crossed, they do when it becomes apparent someone is killing off high-ranking Ageless. It’s not known originally why and this leads to rumors and speculations. Through a series of events involving different villages, the two groups must forge an even more unlikely alliance to defeat the enemy.
It is these unlikely, forced alliances which is one of the biggest themes in The Last of the Ageless. No one really trusts anyone else and with very solid reasons. Dalan disagrees with Nyr’s violent ways. It is only Ti’rros whom he gets along with and that is because Ti’rros is a quiet creature, wallowing in self-pity. Korreth and Jorrim are forced to align with Soledad whom they are constantly trying to figure out a way to break the spell which binds them to her. They can’t kill her because they’ve been ordered not and because if they do, it will kill them in the process. Soledad is a liar as is Nyr and while their underlings know this, they have to accept it if they wish to survive.
Oddly enough, each woman’s underlings develop an odd respect for them. I wouldn’t say it is a case of Stockholm syndrome as Dalan, Ti’rros, Korreth, and Jorrim all still acknowledge Nyr and Soledad are not good people. It is only in Nyr’s character that we see a change where she seems willing to voice admiration for Dalan’s morals. Soledad, though, doesn’t ever come out and say she respects or appreciates Korreth and Jorrim’s forced assistance.
Another theme that appealed to me is the cultural and philosophical differences in play in this world. It’s a very tribal-centered world with a definite pecking order although who is on top varies depending upon who speak to. The only thing that is certain is that Purebreds are the lowest form. Nothing’s unique or special about them after all.
Everyone is pretty ignorant of what each other’s tribes are like, something that is relevant now. The fact Ms. Loudin’s characters all struggle with it, even the Ageless ones who have been around since before the Catastrophe and have access to bits and pieces of advance technology, is intriguing. What is fascinating is throughout most of the book, none of the characters want to really care to change their ignorance until the last third or so of the novel. This is when it is realized that if they work together, they can defeat the now common enemy but seeing each of their strengths brought to the fight. Oddly enough it takes the enemy’s own motivation for what he’s doing which gets the two groups to realize this.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I was worried that with a story set in a post-apocalyptic world would be too depressing and bleak since so many novels take this approach. It was refreshing to have a world which still basically functioned even if the planet and creatures inhabiting it were drastically altered.
The world it’s set in with is a mixture of old and new, magic and technology, and was not something I expected. The characters were unique and their uneasy relationships didn’t feel forced even though the circumstances each group operated in were. The changes in the characters also felt natural and I liked how some of the characters didn’t necessarily change for the better. After all, we don’t all get better with time and age. Even the main villain and the other possible villains had motivations which were not what they seemed at first.
I think Ms. Loudin thoroughly knows this world and these characters and a lot of time and consideration was put into it. It’s hard to juggle that many different characters but she did it very well.
The biggest drawback to me was the last third of the book. There was a lot of action and the final battle went on forever because of the way Ms. Loudin structured it. Since we’ve got more than one main character, each one told the final battle from their point of view. This made it difficult for me to grasp at first until I realized what the author was doing. Initially I thought that was a unique approach until it kept going on and on.
Another drawback, although minor, was how many characters had more than one name. Depending upon whose head the reader was in, at times it was hard to keep track who was actually being talked about. With a novel with several characters, having multiple names gives the illusion there are even more characters involved in the story.
Another minor problem I had with The Last of the Ageless was how often people were traveling from point A to point B then back to point A. I admit zoning out a little bit when people were yet again on horseback and journeying. Reminded me a little bit of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy with all the walking.
So on a scale of 1 to 5 pencils, I give The Last of the Ageless three and three-quarters pencils. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I thought the characters were wonderful.