February 22, 2003

Queen of Demons, by David Drake

During the course of Drake's Lord of the Isles we learned of two wizards each trying to find the throne of Malkar, an artifact that would either one nearly absolute power--for a while, until it destroyed them. Garric puts paid to one of them, the Hooded One, in that book; in this book the chief enemy is the Queen of the Isles, "wife" to the ineffectual King Valence of Ornifal whom she has nearly supplanted.

The more I ponder this series (and though I've only gotten around to reviewing this book today, I've already started the fourth book), the more impressed I am. The typical fantasy epic--Richard Jordan's "Wheel of Time", say--features some great Evil Overlord which our heroes must defeat against all odds. No matter how many volumes go into the series, the quest against the Evil Overlord is the unifying element. And that means that somehow our heroes must defeat the overlord again and again and again until we're almost past caring. That's the problem with the typical Big Story--you get the Skylark effect in spades.

The Lord of the Isles series is a Big Story, but it's anything but typical. The story isn't about the defeat of some Evil Overlord; rather, it's about a heroic attempt to maintain--and advance!--the civilization of the Isles in the face of a thousand-year peak in the tides of evil magic. There's no one Evil Overlord; instead, there might be dozens, all competing against our heroes, and against each other. And on top of that there are the basic human-level politics of the Isles.

Thus, whereas a normal fantasy series must escalate the threat and the response to it with each book, taking our suspension of disbelief to ever higher and more tenuous levels, the Lord of the Isles books each concern yet another problem that our heroes must overcome. The problem might or might not be more severe than that in the preceding book; but it's certainly different.

All in all, I'm finding the whole series most refreshing.

Posted by Will Duquette at February 22, 2003 10:50 PM