A Drowned Kingdom by PL Stuart. The religious symbol of a gold triangle over a gold circle set against a cloudy sky sinks into a green-tinged sea.

A Drowned Kingdom by PL Stuart

A Drowned Kingdom by PL Stuart

The Drowned Kingdom Saga is an ambitious seven-book epic fantasy series that has been gathering increasing attention from readers and reviewers alike over the last few years. With the fourth book in the series, A Lion’s Pride, due for release in the Spring of 2024, I thought it was time to look at my reviews for the first three books, which I plan to feature in January, February and March.

Released at the beginning of 2021 the first book, A Drowned Kingdom is a difficult novel to describe and classify. At its heart, PL Stuart has written a story of sweeping epic fantasy. Yet Stuart does so much more with this novel – I’ve not read anything else quite like it.

Stuart tells the whole story using the first-person perspective of Prince Othrun, who finds himself leading the surviving remnant of his people to a new land. Although Othrun is the focus, the supporting cast of characters are well-drawn and distinctive, whilst the world building is breathtaking in its depth and detail.

A Drowned Kingdom is divided into three parts and when the story begins Othrun is reflecting on his lost homeland – the destroyed Kingdom of Atalantyx, vanished beneath the waves following a cataclysmic disaster. This first section reads bit like what would have happened if JRR Tolkien and GRR Martin had teamed up to write The Silmarillion. Othrun mourns for Atalantyx and through his memories the kingdom is described in loving, longing detail. With its nod towards the legend of Atlantis, all this sounds straightforward enough but with Stuart’s writing nothing is quite that simple. The familial relationships between Othrun, his elder brother and father, the king, were strained. Duty, tradition and honour comes into conflict with religion and the pursuit of power.

This provides a compelling narrative for the first third of the novel, with the royal family rivalries and conflicts played out against the backdrop of Atalantyx. Most writers would be satisfied creating a setting of such depth for their story. Stuart does the opposite, destroying a thing of beauty, before drawing the reader into the rest of his wonderfully realised world.

Interestingly, Atalantyx is not a benign kingdom. The Atalanteans are a colonial superpower, with a history of subjugating other continents through their advanced military might and peerless navy. Born into the ruling elite means Othrun suffers from a superiority complex, making him that most difficult of all literary creations – the unlikeable protagonist. In fact, as the story progresses, you realise he’s actually the antagonist of this novel, another example of Stuart’s imagination and daring.

We see Othrun considering rewriting the history of his own royal family to purge less palatable truths of the past, keen to keep women ‘in their place’ in society, expressing his opinions on the purity of his superior race and having a narrow, single-minded view of religion. The latter is a complex theme handled with skill and sensitivity throughout the novel, where the Atalanteans’ single god is contrasted with the pagan ways of the people Othrun seeks to conquer in the new realm of Acremia.

Othrun may not be likeable and holds views that you, as the reader, would probably not agree with. However, he’s so well-written he remains a compelling figure and I always wanted to know what happened next. The final two thirds of A Drowned Kingdom are very different to how the book begins, with Othrun seeking to forge alliances with the Acremian peoples whilst having his own secret agenda to conquer them. This provides scope for more direct action, new characters, magic and even more world building. There are strong hints there’s a lot more to discover about Acremia, which I hope Stuart will explore as the series progresses.

A Drowned Kingdom is a long book and at times I did feel the plot could have been tightened. With its first-person perspective we get a lot of Othrun’s inner turmoil as he weighs his options and tries to decide what to do. Partly, this is a symptom of the scale of Stuart’s world building, especially as he has to re-establish his setting after destroying the original one. There are lots of characters, kingdoms and history to cover and at times it felt like the story was being slowed down under the weight of all of this. However, despite some shortcomings, there’s so much to admire in this book. Stuart’s prose is never dull and, at times, reads more like poetry.

A Drowned Kingdom is a great story and a simply incredible achievement for a debut novel. The ending is particularly well-written, as the pace improves in the final quarter, and by the time you get to the end you’re left wanting more. In February, I’ll feature the follow-up, The Last of the Atalanteans, which I thought built superbly on this strong opening installment.

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Author: Tim Hardie

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