Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan is the second in the King's Blades novels. While it largely stands on its own, it is still intertwined with events that take place in the first novel, The Gilded Chain. In fact, Duncan drops a bomb at the end of Lord of the Fire Lands which directly contradicts events that take place in The Gilded Chain. At first, I had to wonder if I was remembering things wrong (I'd just finished the first book, so I was pretty sure I hadn't), or if I'd missed some subtle hint that would explain why history was not about to follow the path set out in The Gilded Chain. In the end, I realized Duncan had just dropped one of the biggest hooks I'd ever seen for wanting to rush out and buy the next novel in the series (that being Sky of Swords).
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's stick with Lord of the Fire Lands first.
Our main characters are Raider and Wasp, both King's Blades in training who are called into service by King Ambrose. This is what King's Blades do. It is what they are recruited for, what they train for, and what they most want to do in order to bring honor to themselves and to their liege. There is no greater privilege for a Blade than to serve the King. Problem is, both Raider and Wasp refuse their liege.
What unfolds is a story narrated by Raider, whose real name is Radgar, who we come to learn is not of Chivial. Radgar hails from Bael, the Fire Lands, whose people are the sworn enemies of the Chivians. The first part of the novel is consumed by this narration, which is done very well and shows us that the Baels are not the fire-eating barbarians the Chivians believe them to be. Instead, they are colorful and sophisticated in their own way, but chillingly cold in others, as in when they "enthrall" Chivian captives, effectively turning them into soulless shells. Much of this story unfolds through Radgar' father's eyes, and so it is only when Radgar comes into his own that we jump back to the present.
From the telling of Radgar's story, Ambrose knows he can never let Radgar return home, and so he devises a hurried plot to lock the boy up for the rest of his life. Radgar, accompanied by his now sworn Blade, Sir Wasp, escapes, returns to Bael, and there tries to claim what is rightfully his.
It is then, as the novel concludes, that Duncan drops his bomb. I won't go into what it is, as giving it away could be considered a bit of a spoiler. But it's significant enough that I immediately started reading the next novel in the series, Sky of Swords.
My impression of Duncan continues to improve with this latest novel. His stories are enjoyable, engaging, and very well-written. He tends to use a lot of words from Old English; my Kindle's built-in dictionary is perhaps its best and most used feature. I started reading Sky of Swords immediately after finishing Lord of the Fire Lands and, in fact, just finished it this morning. Look for that review next.