Of Limited Loyalty is Michael Stackpole’s second book in the CROWN COLONIES series, set in an alternate version of our world where magic exists and dragons and other creatures are real, but politics and other social conditions evolved much as they did in reality.
In the previous installment, At the Queen’s Command, we were introduced to Owen Strake, a young Officer sent to Mystria and serving the Crown Governor Prince Vladimir. Owen is so noble at times that it almost hurts. While I greatly admire that about him, his unwillingness to open his eyes to reality becomes such a constant problem that one begins to feel like he deserves the pain he suffers. Sometimes being an honorable person can be carried to a painful extreme…
In Of Limited Loyalty our main characters, Prince Vlad and Owen Strake, are tasked to support a mission to investigate settlements that lie outside the chartered areas of the Crown Colonies. Colonel Ian Rathfield, a recent hero in the war with Tharyngaria, has been sent personally by the Queen to look into the area known as Pottsylvania and possible rogue magic that has been used there.
One of the truly interesting themes in Of Limited Loyalty is Prince Vlad’s exploration of magic. Stackpole has given us a strong picture of Vlad as a researcher with a strong curiosity about pretty much everything. As the story evolves, Vlad studies aspects of magic and discovers that limitations he has been taught are not actually real. This in turn leads to a whole line of questioning about the nature of who can be trusted if his own instructors in magic have misled him.
Love of the land of Mystria continues to draw people to question and challenge both governmental authorities and other ideologies that have been passed down from Norisle to the settlers. The interactions between the settlers and the native inhabitants of the continent also present ideas and prominent changes between commonly held beliefs and alternative thinking. It is a profound picture of how things we often assume are true may not necessarily remain so.
Politics is also a central theme in Of Limited Loyalty. There is competition between political appointees coming from the home country and existing leaders in Mystria, and between the power of the local clergy and secular authorities. Stackpole continues to present the low, base motivations of people who are motivated purely by a drive for personal aggrandizement and control. It would be humorous were it not also all too believable.
All these themes converge with the open conflict between our heroes and a race of beings whose magic and motivations lie completely outside human understanding. The very real threat that evolves from initial contact to open fighting keeps the tension in the story growing. It also opens up connections between different people that only combat, and the intense stress it creates, can do.
There were a lot of things that I really liked about Of Limited Loyalty, but I became frustrated with Owen’s deliberate ignorance and the way he nobly blamed himself for everything. Also, the pace was sluggish. Some books take time to process, or move slowly enough that it’s difficult to just sit and read. I found Of Limited Loyalty to be that way even though it was seldom dry. Stackpole left things open for another book in the series and there are many storylines that could grow greatly in the next book. I hope the pace picks up and Owen gets a clue.
Crown Colonies — (2010-2011) Publisher: The colonies of Mistria are in turmoil. They face wars between the competing empires and and insurrection from natives and colonists alike. Prince Vladamier is a Norillian noble, and Nephew to King Richard. He has little political power, but struggles to ensure the colonists interests are represented back in the court. The one thing he does have is a wurm… one of the few existing “dragons” from a clutch of eggs discovered in the old world,hundreds of years ago. As Mistria swirl into chaos, Vlad is married off to an old world princess. This new alliance is supposed to help supply money and mercenaries to help put down the various insurrections. Nobody suspects that Vlad’s wurm is about to undergo a change that will impact the worlds delicate political balance…