Lord of the Fire Lands


Dave Duncan


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 3, 2009

he first book in The King's Blades series was an enjoyable read - a novel full of swashbuckling swordsmen fighting heroically in kingdoms full of treachery and magic. The second book in the series, Lord of the Fire Lands continues in much the same vein, and for most of the novel is another successful adventure tale. But I thought it stumbled at the end.

The novel begins at Iron Hall, where King Ambrose has come to claim a couple more Blades for his service. But astonishingly, the two young lads who are slated to be the next ones promoted - Raider and Wasp - refuse to enter into King Ambrose's company. What follows is a long backstory, which gives us the true history of Raider. We learn a lot about the Baels, a barbarian group of corsairs who sail their pirate ships along the shores of Chivial (King Ambrose's kingdom). The fierce Baels are slavers and looters, they are just like the the Vikings of our world. In fact, I thought they were TOO much like the Vikings of our world. The Baels language is just like the Vikings - they have names like Healfwer, Aeled, and Cynewulf. They have red hair. They are pirates that sail dragon ships. Just like Iceland, the Baels come from a harsh land plagued by earthquakes and volcanoes. Vikings are interesting, there is nothing wrong with basing a fantasy civilization on the fierce Norsemen, I just wish Duncan had mixed in a few original ideas.

The magic in the book is fun, and the action is non-stop. If the King's Blades novels were ever converted to film, the pace would be a lot like an Indiana Jones adventure set in the Middle Ages. There are always sword fights and escapes, wizards and ghosts, and treachery and schemes, plus desperate situations that require quick wits and unflinching bravery. This book is 480 pages long, but it seemed much quicker.

The corsairs from Bael have the scary practice of taking captured people and converting them into Thralls - using a dark necromatic rite to burn away a person's soul and will, leaving just a walking husk that serves the master. This is a pretty frightful thing to do, but Duncan has Raider simply shrug about this evil practice. But it makes harder to like the Baelmark, despite the fact that King Ambrose is treacherous. It's better to not think too much about the Baels and their murdering and plundering, just race along with the breakneck pace and enjoy all the adventures of Raider and Wasp.

It is not until the last quarter of the book that I was a bit disappointed by Duncan's novel. The question of who would be the next king of Baelmark becomes a key plot point, and it takes some unlikely manuevering for the villains to fail. Wulfwer, Raider's cousin - what was his plan at the end? Why was he visiting a conjuror when he had already been warded once? The whole business of the firedrake didn't make that much sense to me.

It is usually a bad sign when an author has to get the villain to confess in order to move the plot forward. But Duncan resorts to this device near the end of the book, when the writing falters a bit. It seemed to me that there were quite a few coincidences and convenient events that had to happen for the happy ending to ensue.

This was an enjoyable book. I think there is one more book in the trilogy, and then apparently there is a second trilogy of King's Blades tales that follow. So lots of fun reading ahead!