Master Of The Cauldron (Lord Of The Isles Saga book 6) by David Drake (book review).

October 31, 2019 | By | Reply More

‘Master Of The Cauldron’ is the sixth in David Drakes’ ongoing ‘Lord Of The Isles Saga’. I must admit to approaching long series like this with suspicion as I am not sure what an author can say in six books which could not have been said in a tighter trilogy. Nonetheless, on we go to see how the quality holds up. If you have not read my review of book 5, ‘Goddess Of The Ice Realm’, it may well be worth checking that out first.

This book unsurprisingly focuses on main characters that the reader has come to know throughout the series. Prince Garric is the controversial descendent of ancient kings who has risen to take lordship of The Isles. He is accompanied by his sister Sharina, her husband Cashel, his sister Ilna and her husband, Chalcus. When I reviewed the previous novel, I highlighted how all the main characters undergo a sort of diaspora into various different realms and times and so Drake tells several different stories, all seemingly unconnected but wildly inventive.

‘Master Of The Cauldron’ does not deviate from this pattern. However there are differences. While ‘Goddess Of The Ice Realm’ takes a good 100 pages before the characters go off on their adventures ‘Master Of The Cauldron’ achieves this much quicker. Furthermore, it seems more contrived in the sixth book. For example, Cashel is whisked away into a different dimension by a mysterious magical lady who just pops up and says, ‘Cashel, you need to come with me as your mother is in danger!’ Now Cashel believes his mother to have died years previously. So what does he do? ‘Ok, yes I will come with you’ and steps through the magic portal. He does not think to tell anyone where he is going, does not think to let his wife Sharina know nor even say goodbye to her. This fails to ring true to my mind but, after he disappears, the other characters don’t seem unduly worried so maybe this is in keeping with Drake’s series.

All the characters are flung off into the unconnected adventures which in this volume seem, if possible, to be even less connected to the main plot than in ‘Goddess, where there was an interesting twist at the end but ‘Cauldron’ does not really have that. It is true that the story is not simply straightforward having characters who seem like enemies that turn out to merely be misguided but, overall, the sixth novel is less intriguing than the fifth. It also feels as if the characters who have been tricked various ways in the previous book simply repeat the same mistakes in this volume. Do they never learn? It would be interesting to see how other volumes in the series pan out and to see if this pattern is established early.

Drake demonstrates his practiced slickness in the writing which once again which does tick all the right boxes for the seasoned fantasy reader. The disparate strands of story are still wildly creative. The aforementioned Cashel finds himself in a city bereft of its all-powerful magical leadership and therefore open to attack by a wizard and his hordes of in-all-but-name zombies. Can Cashel help the enthusiastic if woefully unprepared young warriors?

Well, we kind of know of course he can, as Cashel seems to be able to twirl his staff and overcome any opposition up to and including gods. So far, the source of Cashel’s seeming combat omnipotence has seemed utterly unexplained but this volume does give hints about where his talent comes from. Maybe future volumes might expand on this? There is a successive trilogy called ‘Crown Of The Isles’ that follows in the same reality.

Meanwhile, Prince Garric has to deal with a naive magical conspiracy against his rightful rule that accidentally opens a gate which allows various demonic monsters to well up in the middle of a city. Ilna and Chalcus sail off to deal with rebellion on the other side of the Isles and Sharina gets magically transported through to a parallel dimension which turns out to be the antagonist’s main store of not-actually-zombies-honest. Eventually, these two lines tie up together and they race off to help Garric with his demonic foes. At that moment, Cashel appears like a deus ex machina to drop all foes. Is there anything this guy can’t achieve?

Once again all the bad guys are beaten and everyone is OK, sort of. There are innumerable slaughtered soldiers and city folk but, hey, the main characters are all right so all’s well. This time, we get an entire a short chapter (six and a half sides) to examine the aftermath. In my opinion, this is not enough. I want to know how they go about helping the city restore itself and who the new leadership will be.

I want to know if the main characters talk to each other about what just happened and what they might have learned, apparently nothing as I’m sure the same sort of thing will happen next book. I want to know what the characters do to comfort teach other and restore themselves after their Herculean efforts. Come on, Drake, I need a bit more character development here!

As with ‘Goddess’ this is a good strong military fantasy with officers and regiments of comparative renown finding ways to work together despite traditional rivalries. I was particularly delighted at the return of two veteran supporting characters from ‘Goddess’ who turn up again in a similar supporting role but for whom life has clearly moved on. Previously, soldiers, they are now ship captains helping to transport the troops. This kind of detail is what brings the joy to fantasy and it is good to see it is not entirely lacking here.

As with the previous novel, I would warn potential readers that these books have a military aspect and that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I personally enjoy this but if this is not your sort of thing then you know who you are. This book is professionally written and very creative which some fantasies fail to achieve and so I am happy to recommend it from a technical viewpoint. If you have read the previous volumes and enjoyed them then rest assured that this is more of the same. But maybe it is too much the same and surely after six novels the formula might be wearing thin?

David Corby

October 2019

(pub: TOR, 2004. 428 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US). $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-312-87496-50

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