Lord of the IslesDavid Drake, 1997
A few weeks back, I bought a big pile of interesting-looking fantasy novels on the cheap at a local comic shop. This is the one of those novels I stuck in my bag before leaving on vacation, so I read most of it on an airplane.
I have a mixed track record with David Drake, and this book does nothing to solve it. I've liked some various space marines stories, didn't enjoy the RCN volume I read as much. This is the first fantasy I've read by him, and I found it strong in technique, but light on style and follow through.
The world-building seems decent at first glance, but it didn't feel like there was enough to it. You have your generic euro-fantasy peasants and traders and politicians, and a handful of "foreign" cultures. The most inventive part was the various jellyfish-looking monsters, shaped like giant alligators or made out of dead people. I felt that I was supposed to think there was some greater history behind what was shown, but that it was just a facade. The various human cultures didn't quite feel real, and I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to see an Earth parallel or not.
It bothered me that as I learned more about each character, it began to seem that theirs had been a whole village of secret changelings with special powers. It ended up a little silly, and I couldn't bring myself to care about them as much. After each revelation, I was a little more frustrated that most of the characters were only able to survive or accomplish their goals because of the specialness (seee-cret specialness!) of their parents. With few exceptions, Drake never convinced me that their success was due to anything in themselves.
I liked all the female characters quite a bit, except Liane, who was just okay. However, I felt that some of them were poorly used. Particularly Ilna, whose no-nonsense demeanor and dedication to purpose made her... stereotypically obsessive as well as prone to manipulation by evil forces? That's a shame. Then she got powers, which was cool, but her plotline just fizzled and wandered. Tenoctris the elderly wizard is pretty fantastic, but I wish I'd seen more validation of her main principle (that a little magic used precisely is safer and more effective than large amounts of power used haphazardly). That theme was there, but almost entirely demonstrated through big magic going wrong rather than the positive potential of careful work.
Final judgment: Not terrible, well written, some interesting parts, might pick up the next one from the library, but not compelling enough to go out of my way for.
2 Stars - An Okay Book