Out of the Waters: A struggle and a half

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDavid Drake The Legions of FireOut of the Waters by David Drake

David Drake’s Out of the Waters continues his new BOOKS OF THE ELEMENTS series set in Carce, a quasi-historical Rome. In my review of book one, The Legions of Fire, I called the novel a “mixed bag” in terms of pace and character and said I was actually more engaged by the historical setting and action rather than the fantastical elements. It was a bit of a struggle to finish, but left me curious enough to pick up book two. Out of the Waters is less mixed, but unfortunately it tips to the wrong side of the balance sheet.

We return to Carce and the main characters: Corylus, the surprisingly philosophical soldier; his friend Varus, failed poet turned prophet and son of Senator Gaius Saxa; Varus’ sister Alphena, who feels trapped by the strictures of society and urgently wants the respect that so easily comes to men in this society; and the siblings’ stepmother Hedia, whip-smart, tough, decisive, and highly effective.

The book opens when Senator Saxa’s opulent public spectacle, which he’s put on to celebrate his promotion to provincial governor, turns into a sprawling image of a strange city defending itself via flying ships against a gigantic multi-limbed monster from the sea. The crowd thinks this is all stage scenery, but our main characters realize they are witnessing an actual event from the past, which turns out to be the destruction of Atlantis by the monster Typhon. And it seems Typhon is soon to be coming for Carce. Of the characters, however, only Alphena sees Typhon as a man, not a monster.

As before, the group works — sometimes together, sometimes alone, sometimes in partnership with new characters — to prevent the prophesied destruction of Carce, by water this time, from coming to pass. We shift back and forth between viewpoints and settings as the characters split up into their own journeys and adventures, trying to stop Carce’s destruction but also trying to figure out the true nature of Atlantis, of Typhon, and who or what might be behind the stages of this attack.

There are some strong ideas here and there, some nice images, some neat fantastical elements (I particularly liked how he melded in some Native American myth), but overall the book just didn’t hold me. If the first book was a struggle to get through, this was a struggle and a half. One major reason was that while in The Legions of Fire I was captivated by the historical detail and storylines, here there was far less of this, and what was there was much more static and less engaging. The characters’ quests felt pretty perfunctory; they evoked the occasional flash of interest, but I never was really invested. This was especially disappointing with regard to Hedia, one of the few standout characters in the first book. I did finish the novel, but it was mostly out of a sense of reviewer obligation rather than keen interest in what would happen to the characters. If you liked The Legions of Fire, you may indeed enjoy Out of the Waters. If you didn’t care for book one, I doubt very much you’ll want to pick up book two. And if you haven’t started the series, much as I wish I could, I can’t recommend doing so as there is so much out there that is better.

The Books of the Elements — (2010-2013) Publisher: From the Bestselling author of the Lord of the Isles… In this novel of magical menace to the survival of all humanity, David Drake introduces a new fantasy world, Carce, based on Europe during the later Roman Empire. Far in the north, a group of magicians perform a strange dance on a volcanic island intended to open a gateway for supernatural creatures that will allow them to devastate the whole Earth and destroy all life. Not knowing the cause, two young men, Corylus and Varus, and two women, Hedia and Alphena, each separately pursue the answer to mysterious and threatening happenings that prefigure disaster  in  the great city of Carce, the center of civilization.  Through magical voyages in other realities where fantastic creatures, and even gods, help or hinder them, each of them must succeed or not just the city but the world will end in fire. The Legions of Fire is the first of a fantasy quartet set in the world of the city of Carce.

David Drake Books of the Elements 1. Legions of FireDavid Drake Books of the Elements 1. Legions of Fire 2. Out of the Watersfantasy and science fiction book reviews


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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