Voyager, £10.99, ISBN 0-00-224749-6
Guardians of the Lost takes place roughly two hundred years after the first book in the series, Well of Darkness. In the last book, evil Prince Dagnarus is thought to be dead and everyone goes around hating each other unhappy in peace. But trouble looms when Gustav, the last of the human Dominion Lords, discovers the Sovereign Stone once again.
Prince Dagnarus isn’t dead, surprise (not). His dark magicks have granted him immortality, ho ho, so now he seeks the Stone even as his army sweeps across the world once again. At the same time, Gustav on his deathbed entrusts the Stone to a pygmy fellow Bashae, his human barbarian buddy Jessan, and the cantankerous old Grandmother. These three inexperienced adventurers take the bag (they have no idea it contains the Stone) across the continent to the elven lands. With the bad guys in hot pursuit, of course.
Jessan’s uncle Raven goes the other way as bait for the bad guys – and gets caught right in Dagnarus’s siege of the city of New Vinnengael. There he is enslaved and gets caught in a civil war between Dagnarus’s factions.
Meanwhile, Wolfram the dwarf escorts Jessan’s aunt Ranessa – actually, Ranessa just tags along, much to Wolfram’s disgust. Wolfram is carrying out Gustav’s last missive to the mysterious monks of Dragon Mountain. Again, bad guys trail after them.
I haven’t yet mentioned elven politics, betrayals, a motley crew of insane-yet-capable human allies, and evil shape-shifting Vrykyls. Guardians of the Lost is a busy, sweeping epic of war that doesn’t pull punches. The main characters – the heroes, if you will – are simultaneously exasperating and noble. Stupidity, prejudice, and bigotry just keep getting in the way of the good guys forming alliances to beat off the bad guy. Dagnarus isn’t the instant catalyst for a dwarven-orc-human-elven alliance, forget it. In fact, it only divides these species further, making it easy for Dagnarus to eat them up one by one. Our heroes have their work cut out for them, and it’s a terrifying one.
I really had the time of my life with this book. It’s epic, and it’s exciting. The only weak point here is the portrayals of the courtiers of Old Vinnengael as some sort of bumbling geniuses. It doesn’t work, and the courtiers just end up stupid fools instead of Scarlet Pimpernels.
Still, it’s a wonderful ride through Guardians of the Lost, and I find myself wishing I can fast forward time to 2002. I want to know what happens next. I want to know the conclusion. Write faster, those two authors, write faster!