David Drake has a considerable reputation as a science-fiction writer, but Lord of the Isles was my first introduction to his work. To be frank, it is not a good introduction.
Lord of the Isles begins in the tried-and-tested high fantasy tradition — ancient events outlined in the prologue, cut to the present on a bucolic location, unexceptional adolescent male character introduced, and on you go. The island of Haft in the Isles of the title is then shocked by the appearance of a ship from the past. And the story begins.
I was not enthused enough in the plot to outline it here — I did not find it good enough to be drawn along by it to the end of the book, so perhaps I should not try to detail it. Certainly it has not lived long in the memory — and in truth, I was never sure entirely what was going on. There are some odd leaps of plot, and the habit of Drake of leaping between strands in a way I did not find entirely logical only exaggerates this. Perhaps the worst example of this was when, having landed on an island, some of the protagonists are suddenly beset by monsters whose presence I did not fully understand — one minute they were long dead, suddenly they’ve all been resurrected and want to kill. It felt very much like a long passage of exposition was pulling the pace back and the author wanted to have a battle — whether or not this is the case I have no idea, but it felt contrived.
I could never really get to grips with the characters or setting either — I could not picture how the world worked, but I’m not sure whether that had to do with the writing style or the world itself. Perhaps it is a little of both. The characters failed to grab me almost utterly, and I found myself not caring about them even when they were in most mortal peril. There were too many characters I have seen before and, in my opinion, presented better.
Pacing I also found off-putting — it would drag under the weight of exposition necessary to understand what on earth was going on before suddenly switching to such breakneck speed that I could not quite keep up — and that largely stymied the tension — it was too sudden a change.
That is not to say I found this book genuinely bad, because it isn’t, and there are some ideas here which may have merit. I liked the idea of a nation of islands and a predominantly (and in one case, totally) seafaring society. But given my familiarity with ancient Greece, this was hardly original enough to really stoke my interest the way a George R.R. Martin or Raymond E. Feist can.
I think my honest feeling about Lord of the Isles is that it is not a truly poor book — just not a very good one, and it never managed to engage me enough to want to keep reading. I got about three quarters of the way through and had no particular desire to follow it to the end to see what happened — I simply was not enthused enough. And having picked it up again recently to write this review, I have had no further desire to finish it now.
Were I genuinely stumped for something to read, I might read Lord of the Isles. But there are too many books I have enjoyed more and too many books I want to read for the first time to do so if I have an alternative, and that is why I failed to finish it — it’s not terrible, just not very good.
FanLit thanks Tom Dare, of London, for this guest review.
Lord of the Isles — (1997-2008) The last three novels of this series (The Fortress of Glass, The Mirror of Worlds, The Gods Return) are collectively called The Crown of Isles and they conclude The Lord of the Isles series. Publisher: In a world where elemental forces which make magic possible are rising to a 100-year peak, survivors from the last such peak begin to appear: Tenoctris, a sorceress swept out of the past; the ghost of the greatest ruler, King Carus of the Isles; and the magician who caused the ancient catastrophe.