The Stricken Field by Dave Duncan

The fate of Pandemia rests upon the shoulders of Imperor Shandie and his friends, who have spread to the far corners of the world in the hopes of uniting all the races against a common foe. Plus, did somebody say that the dragons are rising?

In The Stricken Field, the third of four books in A Handful of Men, author Dave Duncan shows us just exactly how big a task he’s set for his protagonists–and for himself. You see, Pandemia is peopled by just about every kind of magical creature that you’ve ever heard of, and then some. And they’ve all got societies, political systems, cultures, and histories. Let me run down the list for you:

  1. Humans, comprised of imps (civilized), jotnar (feudal brutes), and anthropophagi (savage cannibals)
  2. Fauns
  3. Dwarves
  4. Trolls
  5. Elves
  6. Fauns
  7. Fairies
  8. Pixies
  9. Gnomes
  10. Djinns
  11. Goblins

And, of course, those pesky dragons. Lest you think I’ve picked up a Dungeons and Dragons playbook or something, let me tell you that these books comprise a fantastic story. It’s totally original, well thought out, skillfully plotted, imaginatively peopled, and deeply felt. I know that those of you who think fantasy is stupid don’t believe me. I sure wish you would look past your fears and prejudices and let your imagination go to a place that’s weird and alien and a little dorky, because Dave Duncan is a masterful storyteller.

It’s sort of hard to sum up an epic fantasy series, especially one that has its roots in a previous four-book series. The characters are all over the place, so there are several different storylines, each just as compelling as the others. I am not having any trouble tracking the journeys of the characters, which is another sign of Duncan’s writing mojo.

What’s working for me in this book is the way that he’s putting the marriages of the central characters in jeopardy by splitting up the couples. These people aren’t noble robots–many of them struggle with temptation and even lose that struggle. A pet peeve of mine in books like these is when the main characters are Good People, because that’s boring. And a lie.

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