Lord of the Fire Lands, by Dave Duncan

lord-of-the-fire-lands-by-dave-duncan coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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The second book of Dave Duncan’s ‘King’s Blades’ series begins as a book of the King’s Blades but then morphs into something else. While two of the main characters are Blades, they are also not Blades. It’s hard to explain without giving away much of the plot of the book. I think it is important, though, to warn readers going in to Lord of the Fire Lands that this book does not follow the pattern of the Gilded Chain, as I felt a certain amount of disappointment as I got into the main part of the novel that this didn’t really seem to be a ‘King’s Blades’ book.

One reading Lord of the Fire Lands needs to be aware that this is more properly a book set in the ‘King’s Blades’ milieu, with characters from Ironhall, rather than being a ‘King’s Blades’ novel. I expected something that focused on the Blades, which this novel really does not. The title tells you everything you need to know about the focus of this book. It’s about the Fire Lands.

Now, I’m not saying that deviating from the form set up in Gilded Chain is a bad thing, however, I think calling this book a novel of the King’s Blades is a bit misleading. I believe a reader’s enjoyment would be greater if that reader knew, going in, that this novel is very different from Gilded Chain in content. The novels share similar styles, and both offer above par quality, but their foci are quite different.

Also, it’s terribly important to be aware that this book has a major diversion that will leave readers of the Gilded Chain quite confused. If you have read the Gilded Chain and plan to read Lord of the Fire Lands, it’s almost imperative that you have Sky of Swords ready to go, as all is explained in this novel. The diversion comes quite late in the novel, and is of no concern to those who have not read the Gilded Chain. I can’t explain why the author felt it necessary to act in such a cavalier manner with his established story, and it actually bothered me through most of Sky of Swords. Due to its late arrival in Lord of the Fire Lands, it simply made me jump into Sky of Swords immediately.

So far, I’ve been explaining, quantifying and–to a certain degree–complaining. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. This is an excellent novel. Once I accepted that this was not a King’s Blade novel but rather a novel in the King’s Blades setting, I found myself wholly enjoying this. Mr. Duncan does an admirable job of using the trick of the fish out of water to introduce us to the culture of the Fire Lands and the Bael ‘raiders’. As I mentioned in my review of the Gilded Chain, Mr. Duncan cannot be faulted for his world-building. There is a comprehensive and realistic quality to this setting that does not strain one’s willing suspension of disbelief.

The Lord of the Fire Lands is also a novel based on characterization. In fact, much as the Gilded Chain is about Durendal and his adventures, both swashbuckling and political, this novel follows the same type of adventures of a young candidate named Raider. This is his story, beginning even before his conception, but touching on all the important aspects of his life and leading to a crux of not only his personal history, but the history of two nations.

This novel has the same emotional weight as the Gilded Chain. The reader is drawn into the lives of the main characters, and they are not only believable but, for the most part, sympathetic. This sympathy allows the reader to feel real tension during the moments of danger and real elation at the characters’ triumphs. Mr. Duncan has produced another novel of both excitement and depth. One can read this as a rousing tale of daring-do, or delve deeper into the motivations and flaws of the cast.

This is definitely a good read for fans of fantasy, action and adventure. One need not turn off one’s critical faculties to enjoy this book, and while escapist, it is also a character study. This novel is a well-rounded product of a talented writer.

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