Stackpole sets forth on his new cycle and 34th novel, following the conclusion of the DragonCrown War Cycle (Fortress Draconis, 2001, etc.).
Atlas kicks off with a scene that promises well for the series and is a variation on the Takashi Shimura role as the wise older swordsman of The Seven Samurai. The old swordsman Moraven Tolo, escorting some pilgrims to Moriande, the grandest city in the world, meets three bandits on the very spot where he himself killed three bandits 81 years earlier. He bests the three new ones marvelously, then, rather than kill them, assigns them deeds that will allow them to live. He tells the bandit leader, Payynti, a woman, to go the School of Istor and become a xidantzu for nine years. Will we see her again? The age of black ice that held back discovery has ended and wild magic dimmed. Moriande and its Prince Cyron now depend on the Arturasis, the Royal Cartographers, to lead their ships into uncharted waters. Young Kele Arturasi, engaged to the beauteous but wily Majiata Phoesel, hopes to take her with him on a fresh voyage, but his foxy sister Nirati separates them, and Maj vows revenge. Meanwhile, Moraven’s even older master, Jatan, sends him on a mission to Ixyll, a land warped by wild magic, to save the world. Much political stuff erupts in a babble of odd names that deserve a glossary before the great adventures begin and Kele’s brawling brother Jorim sets sail in Stormwolf to test new cartographical inventions and fill in the blanks on the world map. Grandfather Qiro, chief cartographer, sends Kele off to survey the lost Spice Route, a dangerous job. Moraven, before going on his mission, takes on a student swordsman, Ciras. Ghastly murders take place while Qiro enters alternate worlds, his map coming alive as the invisible cartographer scrawls new routes and lands in blood.
High melodrama empowers a cunning tale.