Review: The Lessons Never Learned
Okay, so yes. I admit it. I’ve been putting off writing this review. In case you might have somehow missed my response to the first book in this series, ALONG THE RAZORS EDGE (EBR Review), it absolutely left me gasping for more. That story is easily one of the best dark fantasy stories I’ve read in the last year, and I haven’t only been noodling around in the self-published arena during that time. I’ve read some authors that I consider to be some heavy hitters. So to say that I was super excited to get into this book would be a pretty powerful understatement. I absolutely couldn’t wait. Like fingers twitching and stuff, grasping for more of The War Eternal. It stands to reason that there will be some spoilers here. So, if you haven’t read that first one yet… seriously, go buy it and read it and then you can come back for my thoughts on this one.
THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED is the second book of Rob J. Hayes’s most recent dark fantasy series that follows Eskara Helsene on her journey of betrayal, recovery, and revenge. She’s finally escaped the Pit, and has done so with a few individuals that she might be able to call her friends. Life in the pit has taken its toll on her mind, body, and spirit, and it will take a considerable amount of TLC to return her to a condition even approaching whole. It is a journey though that she will not have to make alone, be it with company from without… or within.
Before I get into this review, I want to mention that these are the first self-published books that I’ve bought physical copies for myself since getting the Books of Babel from Josiah Bancroft (EBR Archive) — another great series that had its genesis in the self-publishing world, if you somehow haven’t heard of that one — and I’m absolutely pleased that I did. Tracy Hickman has said that a paper book is a physical representation of the emotional experience of a story and seeing that book will always tend to remind you of the experience you had while reading it. That’s a paraphrase, but it’s pretty close. To say the least, I’m going to be enjoying the memory of my reading experience with this series for a long time to come.
I felt like the story started off really good. It picks up immediately after the end of RAZORS EDGE, as Eskara and her friends are fleeing from their point of escape. They know there are those who would have them returned to the Pit, and that they will not be far behind them. As they travel, she begins to learn what she can from both Hardt and Tamura. Hardt teaches her physical skills of attack and defense, and Tamura tries to teach her the ways of being a Sourcerer and finding strength and stability from within. These are skills that will come to define her in the future, but it takes time and effort and several failed attempts of applying each in turn and together, before this tale is over. We also get to learn more about who Tamura is/was, and the history of the Djinn and the Rand and their floating cities.
Two surprises come to light fairly early on. I totally expected one and was completely blind-sided by the second. Each of these twists in Eskara’s story had potential to make major impacts to the story. Interestingly enough, by the end of the book, neither one really had. Although the first twist led to some great character moments and some of the direction the story took, I never really felt like it impacted the drive of the story all that much. On the whole, the pacing of the story seemed… sluggish. Unlike RAZORS EDGE, where there is a single goal and everything in the entire book drives Eskara relentlessly toward that goal, this one never really seemed to have a single goal to approach or a single antagonist from which to run, and that made my enjoyment of the story wane quite a bit. There are lots of instances where “time passes” and Eskara recovers or learns or develops.
THE LESSONS NEVER LEARNED continues Eskara Helsene's journey after escaping the pit, and explores the world. Strong in character and world building.
Despite this slow pace, there are some great character building moments and events portrayed that make a significant impact on who Eskara is. Who she’s going to become by the end of this tale. However, the large majority of the turns and reveals here came not for character but for world-building. This absolutely felt like a book where the author focused on building the world and the story that provides the backbone for the series. When reading RAZORS EDGE, I don’t know that I ever really got a solid grip on the story’s connection to the name of the series. After reading this book, I absolutely do. In many ways though, it was too much world-building and not enough connected character moments for me. The fact that the narration of this part of the story was much more prominently told from the future-version of Eskara might have also played into that impression. It definitely removed a lot of the immediacy of the exciting moments to be sure.
This book, while decent, really suffered from second-book syndrome. It never really felt like it took on a life of its own, but seems to have done a pretty good job of setting up book three. I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. That’s one of the reasons why I took so long to write this review. I kept looking at my experience and turning it over, and trying to decide if I I could give it a rating any different than my first impression. Regardless, I’m totally looking forward to reading the final book in the series and still hoping for some great storytelling. Will also be enjoying the way these book look on my shelf (and reminding me of this experience) for many years to come.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Infrequent and strong
- Violence: Lots of fighting and deaths but not a lot of gore
- Sex: A few mild references