David Drake is more widely known for his military science fiction. Influenced by the pulp writings of Robert E. Howard and later the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Drake always has had a fondness for fantasy. With his Lord of the Isles series of novels, he was able to realize his fantasy ambitions and provide a spectacular landscape with which to work his own particular brand of magic.
Now, with THE FORTRESS OF GLASS, Drake returns to the Isles. The first volume of what is known as the Crown of the Isles trilogy, this is the opening volley that will eventually end our days visiting this realm. Unlike the previous six works in this series, which are able to be read as stand-alone novels, the Crown of the Isles trilogy is best read in sequence.
Prince Garric is attempting to unify the Isles under one recognized King: his father. This novel begins as he and his army prepare to visit the Isle of First Atara and hold council with King Cervoran in an attempt to get him to relinquish his title as King and recognize the authority of King Valence III. Greeted on the sea by Cervoran's son, Protas, Garric and his companions are told that Cervoran has died unexpectedly, and they are asked to preside over the funeral and the coronation of the Prince.
The wizard Tenoctris, pulled from her own time to dwell in this one, feels a sensation in the world around her, reminding her of the day she was ripped from her land. Something is not right and she dreads the consequences of what may come. What does come is a meteor strike: one into the ocean and another during the funeral of Cervoran. When the second meteor explodes overhead, all are taken by surprise when the corpse of Cervoran rises. Their surprise expounds when they find Prince Garric missing.
Garric, like Tenoctris before him, is pulled thousands of years away, stuck in a world where no one speaks his language. It is refreshing to find our hero having to struggle not only against new surroundings but against the difficulties of communication as well. While he struggles to find a way back to his own time, the others are involved in a new threat against the Isles: an assault by The Green Woman, whose magic is vast and threatens to destroy everything. Cervoran begins to assume control of the saving of the Isle but refuses to divulge his plan. He separates the companions onto differing quests in exotic worlds, and all of them must hurry to complete their tasks in time to save the Isles.
Drake resumes his outstanding series in this novel, and it is a treat to read. Much like Robert E. Howard, he has a gift for fast-paced action sequences and heart-pumping battles. At the same time, he also has the patience and serene storytelling ability of Tolkien, molding the inspirations of these two writers into his own work to create something that is absolutely worthwhile. The characters are attractive and complex, and watching them struggle and grow in this volume makes one want to reread the first six books while waiting for the new one.
If you haven't read any books in the Lord of the Isles series, you will not need to in order to enjoy THE FORTRESS OF GLASS; it is a stand-alone in that respect. You will gain some insight and history from memories and discussions between characters. But if you want to experience the full depth of the tale and know each of these characters better, your time spent in the Kingdom of the Isles will be rewarding.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 22, 2011