This book was significantly darker than the previous book in the series. It was also one of my favorites. It’s difficult for me, having read the entire series, to determine how well this book stands on its own, one of the Newbery criteria. Certainly several of the deaths and sacrifices that the characters make had significantly more resonance because of the background knowledge and previous experiences I had already encountered with them. Yet, I think the writing was clear in why and to what degree each loss was felt so that someone new to the book would feel the loss.
This book differed from the previous four in that it had a grander perspective. Instead of staying almost entirely with Taran and his viewpoint, here the narrative shifted from person to person, reflecting a larger playing field in which multiple important things were going on at various times.
I did feel the theme was somewhat undermined in one of the climactic scenes. One of the explicit themes was that prophecies are essentially meaningless because each person must write his own future, that it is our actions that weave the tapestry of our lives, not fate. Yet at the same time many of the events in the book turn on chance or coincidence. Taran stumbling on Durnwyn, or Gurgi saving the secrets, or even Glew causing the mountain to fall and thus forcing the warriors to find a different path, all of these were essentially random events over which Taran had virtually no control and yet were hugely important in the ultimate fate of the battle.
Still, this was a magnificent read, a stunning conclusion to a solidly excellent fantasy series.