cover image The Grand Design: Book Two of Tyrants and Kings

The Grand Design: Book Two of Tyrants and Kings

John Marco. Spectra Books, $14.95 (592pp) ISBN 978-0-553-38022-4

The second novel in the high fantasy Tyrants and Kings cycle takes up where The Jackal of Nar left off. Prince Richius Vantran finds exile more pleasant with a wife and daughter, but still seeks to overthrow Count Biagio and Archbishop Herrith, who are battling each other for control of the land of Nar. From his base on the island of Crote, Biagio commands the Black Fleet under Admiral Nicabar, while Vantran has made an alliance with the Hundred Islands of Liss, bent on vengeance against Nar. All these rivalries are fought out on a large and often vividly described stage, where flocks of attack ravens can destroy armies, soldiers march with both battering rams and poison gas, and sailing ships use rams and flame-throwers. Add to this mix many complex characters--Lorla, the woman in a girl's body who's also a secret weapon concocted by midget mad scientist Bovadin; the dueling dukes of Dragon's Beak, Eneas and Enli; and Simon Darquis, Biagio's sworn agent who turns traitor for love of a dancing girl--not to mention Herrith's tender conscience, and the grand total is something less than the most coherent narrative ever put between covers. One can leap from high point to high point without losing too much interest, however, while appreciating the author's attention to detail and ambitious stabs at originality. (Apr.)