Third installment in Drake's new four-volume fantasy cycle (Out of the Waters, 2011, etc.) whose milieu is Carce, a fictionalized early Imperial Rome.
This time, Drake plunges into the story with little hesitation. Among a number of exotic African animals captured for use in the arena are a group of lizardlike humanoids who appear sentient—or so observes Corylus, a half-dryad soldier and friend of the noble scholar Varus. Just then, Varus is seized by one of his psychic episodes in which he converses with the Sibyl; the vision seems to show giant crystalline worms devouring the entire world. He also witnesses massive horse-headed Ethiopes fighting, and ultimately defeating, the lizard-men, or Singiri. Soon involved in the adventure are Varus’ adoptive mother, Hedia, sword-wielding sister Alphena and wise old Greek tutor, Pandareus. According to the wizard Lucinus, nephew of the poet and mage Vergil, the worms may be stopped by the power of the Book, written by Zabulon and hidden on a magic isle. Another powerful mage, Melino of England, says the same—but according to Lucinus, he’s possessed by a demon. And what of Paris, the sinister Etruscan priest? How do the Singiri fit in? Once again, our heroes will divide up to pursue separate lines of enquiry and resolve the various puzzles. Drake’s involving and satisfying narrative closely adheres to a familiar formula while avoiding the pitfalls of being formulaic, with recognizable characters, original supernatural elements and unpredictable plotting.
A treat for series regulars which, while independently intelligible, will encourage newcomers to return to the inaugural volume.