Lord of the Fire Lands: A Tale of the King's Blades

Dave Duncan, Author Eos $23 (352p) ISBN 978-0-380-97461-0
Distinguished by its sophisticated structure and themes, Duncan's exceptional sequel to The Gilded Chain will satisfy both fantasy fans looking for high adventure and those more interested in rich characterizations. For five years Raider and Wasp have been training to become Blades, expert swordsmen who are magically enhanced. But when the two are offered the highest of honors--to serve the king of Chivial himself--they refuse. As Raider's reasons for this unprecedented decision are explored, Duncan flashes back to present the history of the marriage of a ""civilized"" Chivian duchess to the king of the ""barbarous"" Baels, who have long terrorized Chivial. Raider and Wasp's rejection of the king has made them outlaws, so they must flee Chivial for Baelmark, where they face a situation explicitly like Hamlet's (king dead, queen mother married to her brother-in-law), though Duncan skillfully develops this section as a genuine, unique drama rather than as an arch reference to the Bard. His depiction of Bael culture, which is based in language and custom on Beowulf's time, is assured and creative, authoritative but without unnecessary ostentation. His Baelish villains may be two-dimensional, but the other characters display an appealing combination of fallibility, morality (of various sorts) and charm. Plot twists based on hidden identities and allegiances are surprising yet well prepared. The interesting magical system features eight elements, adding the evocative Love, Time, Death and Chance to the traditional Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Duncan can swashbuckle with the best, but his characters feel more deeply and think more clearly than most, making his novels, especially this one, suitable for a particularly wide readership. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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