THEY ARE THE MOST FEARED MERCENARY COMPANY THE KINGDOM HAS EVER KNOWN.
Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder -- winning countless victories that have shaken the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.
Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse -- for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free's darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.
As the Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price.
Ruckley's tightly focused return to epic fantasy, wherein history and mythology gradually emerge with logical precision, is mesmerizing, magical, and human. Yulan is the leader of a legendary and weary band of mercenaries known as the Free. Accepting one last contract and the perpetually overwhelmed 17-year-old farm-boy, Drann, who comes with it, Yulan takes the Free in pursuit of Callotec, the last remaining royal in the post-revolutionary Hommetic Empire. Battling swords, arrows, and the Clevers, who harness the awe-inspiring elemental forces of the earth, Yulan soon realizes that what appeared to be a simple mission will instead explore the limits of courage, the cost of loyalty, and the seductive pull of redemption. While Ruckley capably choreographs ruthless, electrifying battle sequences and invents creatures of astonishing ferocity, his real strength as a storyteller emerges in quieter moments. The agonizing choices that test Yulan's resolve, Drann's budding courage in the face of repeated humiliation, and the deep affection that binds the Free are all made the more powerful when the characters begin to realize they might not survive this adventure. Ruckley keeps the story riveting even into the final pages, willing to sacrifice a well-liked character and dim the hopes of happy endings in service of a good story.