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The Great Game
Dave Duncan
Volume 1 Past Imperative
Volume 2 Present Tense
Volume 3 Future Indefinite

Dave Duncan
Dave Duncan is a former geologist and recipient of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Achievement Award. His previous works include two four-volume sagas, A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Author Related Links
Dave Duncan's Home Page
Dave Duncan Bibliography
Present Tense
Future Indefinite
Sample Chapter: The Hunter's Haunt
Sample Chapter: The Cursed

Past Feature Reviews
A series review by Wayne MacLaurin

Dave Duncan has long been a favourite of mine. Not only is he Canadian, Canadian Author but he also happens to write great fantasy. One of the main reasons I enjoy his writing so much is that he always manages to come up with a new twist on magic. When I finally had a chance to read The Great Game in its entirety, I was looking forward to seeing what Duncan had come up with this time. I wasn't disappointed. In this series Duncan combines the concept of magical energy (mana) and charisma to provide a compelling background.

Past Imperative begins the trilogy and introduces us to the main character, Edward Exeter, and the alternate world of Nextdoor. In (on?) Nextdoor, strangers, people from our world, have charisma, the ability to draw on a magical force (mana) that they can use to influence people and generally perform magic. Mana come from many sources, including worship and human sacrifice. Some time in the past, several strangers set themselves up as gods, using the mana generated by their worshippers to perform god-like acts. Over the centuries, a complete and convoluted pantheon has developed. The Great Game, from which the series draws its title, refers to the games of power that the gods play. Edward Exeter, a young English gentleman wrongly accused of murder, is drawn into this game when it is revealed that he is the object of a prophecy that claims he will kill the god Death. Death is, of course, somewhat put off by this and has been attempting to thwart the prophecy by killing off the individuals involved. Isn't that just like Death? Going off and killing people for no good reason...

Present Tense continues the saga and spends an equal amount of time in both World War I England and in Nextdoor. Edward is staunchly refusing to have anything to do with the prophecy he seems to be the key to. Being a properly-raised young English gentleman, his main concern is to enlist and fight in the Great War. However, Death seems particularly eager to help Edward skip that messy "enlisting" thing and repeatedly offers to help Edward just jump to the likely conclusion fighting in the trenches of Europe. As Edward struggles to join the war, he recounts his adventures in Nextdoor as he tried to return to England in Past Imperative. While simultaneously attempting to avoid both Death and anything to do with the Prophecy, Edward manages to get involved in a nasty little war, fighting alongside a Zulu-like native tribe.

Future Indefinite finishes the series with a flurry of activity, and it is easily the strongest novel in the trilogy. Edward, now returned to Nextdoor, has accepted his fate as the Liberator and is trying to fulfill the prophecy and kill Death. The mysterious Service isn't so sure that is a good thing and enlists an old friend of Edward's and Edward's cousin to try and talk some sense into the "old boy". Meanwhile, Death is not idly sitting by while the Liberator fulfills his destiny, and is trying hard to kill Edward. And, all the while, the rest of the gods are conniving and plotting. The Great Game is being played for keeps.

As a series, I enjoyed The Great Game immensely. Each book is slightly different in style (matching the title of each... nice touch) which lends itself very nicely to the "dual" nature of the story. I'm generally not fond of "contemporary fantasy" but Duncan uses World War I as a backdrop to the story rather than writing a novel of punk-elves in muddy trenches. (I didn't notice a single punk-elf in the entire series). Duncan liberally sprinkles the plot with several great characters, lots of detail, and a fabulous "secret society," The Service, modelled after the Victorian British Colonial Service. A great feature of the series is that each novel is stronger than the last. I found Past Imperative somewhat slow to start but by Future Indefinite all thoughts of that had vanished into an eagerness to finish the trilogy.

Copyright © 1997 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

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