The Kane Chronicles ends with The Serpent’s Shadow which promises the end of the world and reigning chaos as Apophis has risen and is ready to destroy the world with a broken faction of magicians, and it’s up to Carter, Sadie, and a small team of friends to stop them. Rick Riordan ends the trilogy in honestly one of the weirdest climaxes for a book, with a real sense that Riordan wanted to write an all out magic battle, but had implemented a magic system that really doesn’t lend itself well to a structured fight. Instead, there is a final spell scroll which works as a McGuffin for the plot as the book becomes a fetch quest with a dead evil magician called Setne and plenty of character drama involving romances and the stress of trying to save the end of the world. The magic system working on simple commands mean that magic battles end up being simplified, asking the question why someone doesn’t just use a hieroglyph for death, other than the fact that this is a young adult novel. Riordan is unable to fully flesh out this magic system’s limits and really what it can do in combat, as in the previous two books it excelled at being used mainly for utility and the energy costs of the magic (especially in The Red Pyramid) could be felt by the reader. Here it feels like Carter and Sadie have, not quite a mastery, but enough understanding of magic that the reader doesn’t ever get to see the other aspects of the system. It is one major aspect in the book which makes the climax feel underwhelming, the spell scroll is found and Carter and Sadie just have to team up and read it out, defeating Apophis once and for all.
Apophis as a villain is also one of those major issues in the book. The serpent really is a shadow throughout the book, only getting one or two monologues that are not nearly as effective as the chilling characterization in the short scenes in The Throne of Fire. He is supposed to be an embodiment of chaos, but you really don’t see anything of chaos coming for the Kane’s from Apophis, the ghost Setne who is basically chaotic neutral causes more chaos and trouble. It doesn’t help that Apophis doesn’t have a lieutenant that had been built up, instead his forces are lead by Sarah Jacobi who was a minor villain in The Throne of Fire, but she doesn’t really get characterization. Her motivations are contradictory, believing the gods the cause of chaos and not the giant snake that fully admits for wanting chaos. Riordan isn’t trying to make her seem naïve, she’s supposed to be this big villain, but there isn’t anything there for her to make an impression with the rest of the characters. She’s also kind of disposed of rather quickly at one little point in the middle of the climax without any real ceremony. The lackluster villains feel like Riordan had a deadline to meet, so he had to quickly get a villain in the book without any consideration. Compare this to Percy Jackson and the Olympians where Kronos and Luke both served as an immortal and human villains, even when Kronos isn’t included as a physical presence until the final book. There has been build up here, but that build up has lead to absolutely nothing in terms of catharsis, at least in this aspect. It makes The Serpent’s Shadow a really difficult book to get into because the threat doesn’t actually seem real in this one.
Where Riordan at least succeeds is in wrapping up the personal stories of Carter and Sadie Kane, and their conflicts with the gods. Both get their romantic shots which at least feel right for the endings, though Sadie’s is kind of odd as she doesn’t have to choose in the love triangle ending up in a sort of polycule thing that isn’t really a polycule, it’s weird. As always, having their narration is fun and snappy with the sibling bickering being one of the few highlights of their relationship. There’s also a real sense of conclusion with the estranged family aspects of the plot, especially after The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire made things incredibly complicated with their parental situation. It feels like Riordan was attempting to use the Egyptian gods as analogues for their own problems and insecurities which actually works really well. There’s also the general writing style that Riordan employs in all of his books that make even the more unbearable portions of the plot at least readable. There are far worse books out there, however of everything Riordan has put out that I have read, The Serpent’s Shadow is a weak entry and leaves The Kane Chronicles with a hasty and almost messy wrap up. 4/10.