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Literature / The Lord of the Isles

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David Drake's Lord of the Isles series is heroic fantasy, following the adventures of four main characters: Garric, his sister Sharinanote , and their loyal friends Cashel the shepherd and Cashel's twin sister Ilna. Garric has a claim to the throne of the Isles, and the ghost of the last true king advising him (though most of the advice is on the order of: "Don't do what I did; it was a disaster.") Cashel and Ilna have unusual magical abilities; and Sharina is tough, smart, and has a talent for making friends who're badass enough to help with any threats she can't quite handle on her own. Other key characters include Lady Liane, whose merchant father left her with an information network she's turned into Garric's intelligence service, and Tenoctris the wizard.

The magical forces wizards draw upon have a thousand-year cycle; currently, they're reaching a peak, so even the weakest wizard can do mighty things. Unfortunately, most wizards don't understand these forces properly, and tend to do a lot of damage with the side effects of their spells. The last time the forces peaked, the Kingdom of the Isles shattered into squabbling successor states. Tenoctris is a survivor from that disaster. She's not a very powerful wizard. But ... she does understand the forces of magic, and her spells do what she intends them to do, no more or less — making her an absolutely vital resource.

I'd intended to use Atlantis as a setting. Tom [Doherty, Tor's publisher] pointed out that none of the series which had done really well had real-world settings; and OK, Atlantis wasn't exactly real, but—
I don't generally argue with a publisher, especially when (as in this case) he's one of the best marketing people in the business. I set my novel in The Isles, which are Not Atlantis.
— David Drake, from his website

The books are:

  • Lord of the Isles (1997).
  • Queen of Demons (1998).
  • Servant of the Dragon (1999)
  • Mistress of the Catacombs (2001)
  • Goddess of the Ice Realm (2003)
  • Master of the Cauldron (2004)
  • The Fortress of Glass (2006)
  • The Mirror of Worlds (2007)
  • The Gods Return (2008)
    • The last three books are considered a trilogy, The Crown of the Isles, within the series.

This series provides examples of

  • The Atoner: Nonnus, in the first book; Ilna in the others.
  • Author Appeal: Garric, Sharina, and Liane are fond of and often quote the work of ancient poets — expies of the Classical poets David Drake likes to read. "Rigal" is Homer, "Celondre" is Horace, etc.
  • Badass Army: The Blood Eagles, the royal bodyguard; to join, you have to have shown heroism in the regular army.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Cashel can kill demons with his bare hands. It's hard to make him angry enough to want to hurt you. It's also very stupid.
  • Crystal Prison
  • The Determinator: Pretty much everyone, but special mention goes to Tenoctris (physically frail) and Liane (highly educated, but not in anything suitable to her rough and tumble lifestyle).
  • Eternal English: Time Travel takes place in several of the stories, usually involving transitions of thousands of years. The language remains essentially unchanged, although it may be accented, and once a character used a word that didn't exist in the society she'd been thrown into. Possibly justified because A Wizard Did It, literally — except that a couple of times, the wizard who did it wouldn't have wanted the time traveler to be able to communicate.
  • Generation Xerox: Averted. Carus was in love with a woman whose looks and personality were identical to Ilna's, but Garric merely regards Ilna as a good friend.
  • Gentle Giant: Cashel.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: One of each in the backstory. Garric's mother was married to Sharina's father; Garric's father is married to Sharina's mother — and that's four parents, not two.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The first book reveals that Cashel and Ilna's mother was an unidentified member of The Fair Folk, and this is evidently the source of their odd powers. She's later named: Queen Mab.
  • Identical Grandson: Garric's visions of Carus show that the physical resemblance is very strong, despite there being a thousand years between them.
  • Oblivious to Love: Cashel is utterly devoted to Sharina. In the first two books, other beautiful girls fall in love with him ... and he doesn't notice. He's a little more aware of it happening in some of the subsequent books.
  • Pirate: Chalcus (reformed).
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Garric and Sharina, who drive their bodyguards insane by being brave and energetic — the sort of royalty who're worth protecting, but very hard to protect. Garric's ancestor Carus was a warrior king, and it shows.
  • Spirit Advisor: King Carus, to Garric.
  • The Spymaster: Liane. Doesn't fit the "cold and dour" characterization at all; she's young, beautiful, and was described by someone inclined to dislike her as "calm, steadfast, and kind, with a spirit that could never be broken so long as life was there to sustain it."
  • Squishy Wizard: Tenoctris is seventy years old, and a scholar rather than an athlete all her life.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Ilna, toward Garric.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Cashel, toward Sharina.
  • Wham Episode: The Fortress of Glass.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: Often.
  • Wild Magic: Not precisely, but Cashel's power doesn't always act by his volition, although it usually does what he'd want it to do if he knew it could do that. A prime example is when his magic altered the names on a written contract to reflect Cashel's belief that two of the people signing it were cheating the others. He'd had no idea that was going to happen.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Averted. Flung a thousand years into the future, Garric is told history says he died fighting a rebellious noble and the kingdom collapsed. When he gets back, he finds Sharina (and Carus, wearing Garric's body) managed to talk that particular rebel over to their side.