Stephenson and Tedrick (War of the Staffs, 2016) deliver a second installment in their saga of swords, sorcery, and the depths of space.
Picking up where the previous novel left off, the war-torn planet Muiria remains under the threat of Lord Taza, a vampire warlock with the magic staff of a dark goddess and a mighty army. Still, Prince Tarquin—prophesied to destroy Taza—the wizard Celedant, the elven rebel Morganna, and others continue to oppose the vampire, despite his best efforts to kill them. Now the race is on for the virtuous forces to find the lost piece of the Staff of Adaman and turn the tide before it’s too late. At the same time, good and evil engage in a complex dance of coalitions and politics, as each group attempts to bolster its alliances, and Taza tries to frighten the nations of light into inaction. The vampire also plans to travel “through the void in search of new and greater creatures to pit against” Prince Tarquin and his band and “to contact the Shadow Lords.” As tension mounts, the heroes grow closer and learn to lean on one another for support, and sometimes more. But close bonds and noble intentions alone cannot stave off the sinister warriors in the field or the destruction when the two sides finally clash. As in the first volume, complex battle scenes and the myriad races, cultures, and powers in Muiria are strong selling points, and during the quest for the Staff of Adaman, the audience sees even more of this rich, intriguing world. Unfortunately, while the broad scope and multiple perspectives will appeal to some readers, the details may be overwhelming for others, and anyone attempting to read this book as a stand-alone will likely get lost. Additionally, the prose is awkward and excessively specific at times, which can draw readers out of this Tolkien-esque epic: “The prince’s frantic retreat had foiled a deadly blow from her scimitar, aimed at his exposed neck, when he tumbled over a tree root.” Finally, while the story provides more background for the cast’s personal relationships, the characters remain archetypal and simplistic for the most part, making large sections difficult to navigate and showing a lack of depth that plagues the novel as a whole.
Offers an enjoyable romp for high fantasy fans, but lacks rounded characters.