The novel Lord and King by PL Stuart. The cover features a tarnished golden crown on a white background.

Lord and King by PL Stuart

Being in power is very different to seizing power

I was provided with an ARC of Lord and King (LAK). This has not influenced my opinion or views and this is my honest review of the novel. LAK is the third book in PL Stuart’s Atlantis inspired A Drowned Kingdom Saga. As such, this review contains spoilers for A Drowned Kingdom (ADK) and its sequel, The Last of the Atalanteans (TLOTA). Having covered the disclaimers it’s time to tell you what I thought.

The overriding theme running through Lord and King is that being in power is very different to seizing power. The challenges Othrun faces were memorably foreshadowed by the wise words of Glathan in the concluding chapters of TLOTA:

“Remember this day, Lord Othrun, the first day of your kingship. For this will be the best day. To be a king is glorious, yet to be a king is humbling.”

There were lots of things to set up in those first two books, and obviously Stuart took the unusual step of destroying a huge amount of what he established in the first third of ADK! Both those books were about survival and Othrun’s attempts to gain a foothold in Acremia and establish his new kingdom. LAK finds Othrun in a much more stable position, and this allows more space for the plot and action to progress, and for the expansive cast of characters to develop.

There’s no doubt that the Drowned Kingdom Saga has a complex overarching plot, and at the beginning I found this book was a little bit recap heavy at times. However, I know a lot of readers will appreciate those reminders and it wasn’t long before the plot of LAK started to unfold and I was soon drawn into a compelling drama.

In LAK Othrun sets about acquiring more land and kingdoms and client kings, through negotiation rather than war. The business of running a kingdom and maintaining the balance of power in his court taxes Othrun’s patience at times. The diplomacy, alliances and potential political marriages are all superbly done.

The practicalities of building a kingdom whilst intermingling the Eltnish and Atalantean peoples, with their very different customs and faiths, enables Stuart to explore issues of religion and sexuality. In this regard, Othrun is actually quite progressive but he also has to appease those Atalanteans who take a harder line, full of prejudice and superiority.

Stuart doesn’t shy away from drawing inspiration from some truly horrible moments in our own history. I don’t want to provide any spoilers but the misuse of religious authority and the cruel impact of cultural suppression is laid bare in this novel. Othrun’s new kingdom is far from perfect.

There’s some personal development for Othrun as the issue of race and racial prejudice is again addressed, a key theme running throughout this whole series. Stuart spells out how despicable racist attitudes are very clearly in this novel, once again using the clever device of having the people who hold such views, including the narrator, condemn themselves with their own words. With the ongoing challenges we see in our world, it’s an important message that still needs to be told.

Linked to this point, the arrival of the Anib, whose culture resembles the people of a united and powerful Africa, has been building up throughout the first two books. However, their purpose when they finally make an appearance was very different to what I was imagining, Stuart completely confounding my expectations on that score. Their leader, Queen Undala, is a fantastic new character as is her sister, Briduku.

Stuart’s world is enormous in scale but also believable, drawing you in. There’s a scholarly feel to his writing and in some ways his novels read like historical documents. The style is comparable to a biography in many ways, set in an epic fantasy world. With its first-person perspective, it feels like a fireside tale, told by Othrun as an old man, reflecting on his glorious and not so glorious past deeds.

If all this sounds like heavy going I want to make clear this was a quick, exciting read. I ripped through the 600 plus pages of this book in a fortnight. Whilst he doesn’t skimp on the facts and details, Stuart tells a fantastic story and once that got its hooks into me this novel was unputdownable.

Whilst there’s plenty to think about LAK is definitely not short of action. The prologue has the most dramatic start of the series so far and the book is full of betrayals, intense battles and Othrun’s appetite for daring deeds is never far away.

No review would be complete without some mention of Othrun’s character. There are some hopeful signs of personal growth but (and I can think of no other way to describe this) Othrun is still a monumental prick at times!  His guardian angel, the Anchali, is certainly not to be trusted. However, Othrun is too vain to see he’s being guided down a perilous path, as the Anchali plays on his longing for power and glory, despite the illegitimacy of his claim to the throne. Othrun’s irrational desire for Berefet gold, which he could never spend in his lifetime, leads to some terrible consequences. The sins of pride, greed and stubbornness are all on full display.

There were times when Othrun’s ability to captivate the heart of any woman he meets stretched my credulity. However, I think this is my issue rather than anything to do with the writing, and it probably comes from knowing his flaws so intimately as the reader. In reality, we’re all flawed individuals and we still fall in love with each other. Othrun is good looking, powerful, ambitious and wealthy. In other words, he’s hot, and that’s why women go for him. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory but ultimately his different relationships with the women in this novel are very well done. They’re satisfyingly complicated but also realistic, especially concerning the inevitable restrictions that come with power and the fraught issues around religion.

I have to commend Stuart that, whilst Othrun’s voice is dominant, it doesn’t drown out the other characters. This takes considerable skill as an author, to make you like a character who is perceived through the eyes of an unlikeable narrator. In this novel, despite the size of the cast, I thought the supporting characters grew and evolved. In addition to the Anib, I thought Glathan, Aliaz, Yedwol The Ready, Uthlen and Apolt all stood out in this instalment.

This is a brilliant book and, much as I enjoyed the first two novels in this series, I think LAK marks a step change. Stuart’s craft and storytelling skill is developing with each novel and Lord and King really delivers on every level. With its epic, sweeping storyline, vast world, varied characters and dynamic politics, The Drowned Kingdom Saga is like a tightly plotted Game of Thrones. After the unexpected, dramatic ending to Lord and King, it’s clear this seven novel series is far from done. I recently finished reading the fourth instalment, A Lion’s Pride, and I’ll be writing up my review for that book very soon!

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Author: Tim Hardie

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