Simon Brown,
Fire & Sword
(DAW, 2004)

If there is one fantasy writer who, in my opinion, is not getting the attention he is due, it is Simon Brown. Fire & Sword, the second novel in the Keys of Power series, not only advances the storyline begun in Inheritance in impressive style, it transforms it into an heroic tragedy of epic proportions.

In Inheritance, young Prince Lynan was basically a kid who slowly found himself divested of his innocence. Looked down upon by virtually everyone in the halls of power of Grenda Lear -- especially his half-brothers and half-sister -- because his father was a commoner (albeit the greatest general the realm has ever seen), Lynan was forced to flee the land entirely after a malevolent coup framed him for the death of his brother on the night of his coronation. Escaping with Kumul, ex-captain of the palace guard, Ager Crookback, an old soldier who served his father during the Slaver War, and Jenrosa Alucar, a student of magic who found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, Lynan made his way to the Sea of Grass, where he hoped to find safety -- and possibly an army -- among the Chetts, a people who once served under the banner of his father.

As Fire & Sword opens, Lynan's transformation from boy to man reaches its completion -- and more than that, for he now begins to act in the manner of a royal soldier-king. He also privately fights periodic urges of a bestial nature, a consequence of the life-saving blood of Silona, vampire of the woods, now coursing through his veins. The Chetts are nomadic tribes resistant to central rule, but they still revere the name of Lynan's father. With the help of Korigan, queen of the largest Chett tribe, and the compelling significance of the Key of Union he wears around his neck, Lynan does indeed find his army.

Back in Grenda Lear, the new Queen Areava is enraged to learn that her murderous half-brother still lives, and she vows to see him dead, going so far as to hire mercenaries to undertake the deed. It is truly a time of great change in the land, for war is clearly coming to Grenda Lear. The neighboring kingdom is preparing an invasion force, and the preparations for her land's defense come amidst the time of Areava's marriage to the son of the King of Aman. Areava rules with an icy hand, never realizing that she is being manipulated every step of the way by the real killers of the king. Palace intrigue and a brewing drama surrounding Prince Olio give this story a subtly intriguing complexity few authors can handle in such a deft manner as that seen here.

Everything gets very complicated very quickly. Areava prepares her army to meet the army of neighboring Haxus, while both sides have sent forces into the Sea of Grass in hopes of either capturing or killing Lynan. Neither side's war plans allow for the possibility that Lynan has put together an army of his own, yet both must eventually face the Chett army of the young prince as he comes to reclaim Grenda Lear for himself.

Fire & Sword is a surprisingly dark novel, offering portentous revelations I for one had not anticipated. Lynan's band of friends begins to drift apart as this story progresses, although they remain loyal to one another and to Lynan's cause. A few moments of light comedy emerge here and there, but Lynan is now a very serious young man with a mission -- one that will ultimately lead his friends into battle against their own people. The battle scenes are vividly described and pulse with excitement and danger. Having said all that, I must admit I was not prepared for the final two chapters of this novel. Not only do things take several dark, heartrending turns, events all over the different kingdoms are brought to a simultaneous crescendo of stunning tragedy and despair. You do not lay Fire & Sword aside lightly after you finish reading it. These lands and these people, especially the heroic band of Lynan's followers, are irrevocably changed by the course of events chronicled here, and I look upon the prospect of the third exhilarating novel in this series with a real sense of trepidation as well as heartfelt excitement -- peace and happiness in the fantasy world of Simon Brown's creation have never seemed farther away than they do right now.

This is truly powerful stuff, and I only wish more readers would have the chance to experience the work of this master fantasist.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 27 November 2004

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