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Queen of Demons
David Drake
Tor Books, 480 pages

Queen of Demons
David Drake
David Drake is the author of Igniting the Reaches and Through the Breach (1995), The Dragon Lord (1979) and To Bring the Light (1996) as well as the North-world series. Best known for his science fiction classic, Hammer's Slammers, Drake is a veteran of the only independent armored regiment assigned to Vietnam. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Patriots
SF Site Review: Lord of the Isles
David Drake Tribute Site
David Drake - Baen Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

In Lord of the Isles, the first installment of David Drake's unnamed fantasy series, four young people -- Garric or-Reise and his sister Sharina, Cashel or-Kenset and his sister Ilna -- set out on a journey from their peasant village only to be swept, in typical epic-fantasy fashion, into magic and danger and destiny. But Lord of the Isles, with its fine characterizations, gritty action, and vivid world-building, is much more than typical epic fantasy; and the same is true of its followup, Queen of Demons.

A millennium ago, the Kingdom of the Isles was destroyed in a calamity precipitated by a powerful and arrogant wizard, during a period when the forces of the cosmos were rising to a peak. Now the forces are peaking again, and the powers of magic have once more acquired wild and uncontrollable strength. Even wizards of little ability are able to accomplish great works, and those with larger talent can do far more. But great power does not necessarily equal great understanding. In their lack of comprehension of the universe's balance and their unconcern with the consequences of their actions, the powerful wizards, now seeking to dominate the scattered societies born out of the wreck of the Kingdom of the Isles, threaten to unleash a second destruction, even more disastrous than the first.

Queen of Demons finds Garric and his friends, who in the previous book foiled an ambitious sorcerer's attempt to gain for himself the cosmic power-source known as the Throne of Malkar, caught up in another struggle. This time it is to defeat the Queen of Valles, a hugely powerful wizard who seeks to control the Isles, and the terrible Beast another wizard has summoned to oppose her. As in Lord of the Isles, the friends begin the narrative together, but are quickly separated, and over the course of the book pursue individual adventures that eventually join up for a single climax. Garric, descendant of King Carus, the last ruler of the united Isles, moves closer to his destiny of becoming King himself, and joining the scattered kingdoms under a single rule. Sharina is kidnapped by minions of the queen; she escapes, but eventually falls into the queen's hands once more. Cashel, who in the previous book discovered his own unusual magical powers, stumbles through a series of strange, alternate worlds with an even stranger band of companions. And Ilna, whose rigid nature and secret love for Garric seduced her into turning her patterning gift to evil, attempts to live quietly and work her own redemption by doing good, but is swept into adventure anyway.

These parallel stories are told in brief, alternating point-of-view sections, a rapid-fire technique that takes a bit of getting used to. There's also some awkwardness in the first chapter, where the problem of rehashing previous action must be dealt with; and the short paragraphs and emphatic writing style occasionally become annoying. But overall Queen of Demons is an involving, strongly-imagined narrative, with an impressive depth of treatment in all its aspects. If the plot seems a bit over-intricate at times, which, now and then, one has the suspicion that the characters are taking a very long way around to get where they need to go, it's easy to forgive a bit of padding, simply because their travels make such an excellent story.

As in Lord of the Isles, the characterizations are very fine. The four protagonists possess carefully-shaped and distinctly individual voices, and even minor players are sharp and convincing. Garric's adjustment to his sudden royal status is perhaps a little facile, but still, it's been clear since the first book that this is his destiny, and he's had plenty of time to get used to the idea. Also impressive is the thoroughness with which Drake has worked out his system of magic. Ordinarily I'm put off by books in which wizards wave wands and incant in arcane languages, but the philosophical underpinnings Drake provides for these rituals makes them unusually convincing.

But what really distinguishes these books, and lifts them well beyond the ordinary run of epic fantasy, is their outstanding world-building. It's rare to read a historical novel that evokes a period and a culture as vigorously as Drake does his imaginary realm of the Isles. Partly this is because many of the elements of Drake's world are not imaginary at all; as many writers seem to be doing these days, he has turned to the classical world for inspiration, and much about the Isles is recognizable from our own actual past. But it takes more than research to do as Drake has done, and build a fictive society as vivid, consistent, and believable as any real one. For all its myth and magic, its chimerical creatures and impossible phenomena, the world of the Isles seems less an invention than a glimpse of something that might actually once have been: a culture archaeologists might dig up tomorrow.

The ending of Queen of Demons resolves its many plot threads, but it's clear that there is more story to come. This is already one of the more impressive of recent fantasy series; if the subsequent volumes are as good as the first two, Drake will have created a really significant addition to the genre.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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