One of the things I enjoy so much about the #RabbitsWithSwords world of S. D. Smith’s Green Ember books is that there are a great number of “minor” characters who are so interesting to me that I would love to see them get their own fully developed stories. As an example, the Weavers are written in such a way that I feel like Sam must have backstories for them that he is waiting to tell. At least, I sure hope so. I also would love to know more about Emma and Lord Rake’s story before Heather and Picket arrive at Cloud Mountain. And, strange as it may sound, I want to know more about Kyle’s story. Without question, I definitely want much more of Helmer’s story. And I want to know more about the votaries. I said in my spoiler-free review of Ember’s End that I am an insatiable reader, but that is only part of it. Sam’s writing seems to suggest that if we had enough evenings on his porch, looking out at his field, he would tell us all of these stories and so many more.
While I was reading The Green Ember, Jo Shanks did not jump out at me as being one of those characters we needed to know more about. Heather did attend to his wounds in the battle, and that did pique my interest, but he did not jump off the page as one of those characters who would become a favorite. When Sam released The Black Star of Kingston, I delighted in the knowledge that we were getting a robust origin story for the land of Natalia. That little book had so much promise (which is, I think, realized in Prince Lander and the Dragon Wars). When I read Ember Falls, however, I began to really love the band of brothers who served under Captain Helmer and, with Picket’s experience and Heyward’s engineering, would all learn to fly. So, when I read The Last Archer I wasn’t completely surprised that we were getting a Jo Shanks story. I had not expected a third storyline to emerge from this #RabbitsWithSwords legendarium, but I did think Sam had a particular interest in Jo Shanks.
When The Last Archer opens, Jo is just not that “special.” In fact, he is pretty ordinary. Ordinary in the sense that he exists for great good but he is getting in his own way. Like most of us, Jo is not the best, not the brightest, not the most courageous, and certainly not the most consistent. Next to Nate Flynn, Jo is sort of a disaster. But, readers of the series know that is not Jo’s whole story. Jo Shanks is easily one of the most beloved characters of the entire series because when he is doing what he was made to do . . . he is a lovable, loyal, and brilliant hero. And funny. He is very funny. The Last Archer, will become the First Fowler, an ultimately, a great hero for the cause.
Like many, I thought Ember Falls was a brilliant sequel to The Green Ember. It was appropriately darker, richer, more complex, and more well told. Everything we loved about The Green Ember was present in Ember Falls, but the sequel was more satisfying, even if more tragic. The Last Archer builds on that creative energy with an intriguing twist.
As of writing this (April 2022), there are ten Green Ember world books. S. D. Smith recommends that we read in publication order. You can learn more here. That order, however, is not chronological. There are four Green Ember books which tell the overall story. Those books have a complex and well-developed story arc, and the ending of Ember’s End really and truly feels like a series-ender. Those books are substantially larger/longer than the Green Ember Archer books and the Tales of old Natalia books (although, those are growing in size as they are released). As Sam was writing the main series, he treated us to the beautiful and relevant history of Natalia in The Tales of Old Natalia series. Prince Lander and the Dragon War, as an example, gives us critically important information about key details in Ember’s End.
The Green Ember Archer books tell us more about the main series almost from the point of view of a third-party observer. The Archer books follow the exploits of Jo Shanks as the main series is happening. In this first installment, the story opens before Jo and the Half Wind Citadel rabbits arrive at Cloud Mountain. It tells the key events of The Green Ember from the vantage point of rabbits who hated and distrusted the Longtreaders. This creative twist offers readers a number of opportunities to consider the familiar story anew.
Jo Shanks is an insecure and self-absorbed rabbit who has much to learn. A hero in the making, Jo needs to first understand himself and his cause better. Readers of Ember Falls are keenly aware of what Jo is capable of, but in this story, Jo is floundering. Jo’s confusion about himself and the characters around him affords us the opportunity to reflect on how grace really works. Knowing what Jo will become, we read this story with hope and faith that all of it will work itself out. It was not lost on my kids and me that this lesson can help us in our real lives. We too are a work in progress and have much to learn.
Like all things S. D. Smith, this story celebrates hope, courage, and self-reflection. These attributes make the characters authentic and worthy of consideration. I sincerely hope that Sam will give us more like this. A scenic and fascinating detour from the main story, this was a lovely way to spend a few hours reading aloud to my children.
You can learn more about S. D. Smith and find more of our reviews of his books here. You can purchase this book directly from Sam’s store, Story Warren, here or from Amazon, here. You can learn more about the book at Biblioguides, here. Sara has done some Green Ember bookclubs, you can find more here.