Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Secret Atlas

Third time's the charm, I guess.

I'm a big fan of Michael Stackpole. At first it was just because of his Star Wars novels (which, in my not so humble opinion, are better than those of Timothy Zahn. Yes, I went there!). But I finally decided to read his other books such as Talion: Revenant and the DragonCrown War Cycle. So I was extremely excited a few years ago when this book came out.

But I had a little trouble with A Secret Atlas the first time I read it. Lots of characters, lots of place names, and a very complex plot. I read it a second time when the second book in the series, Cartomancy, came out. And now I've read it a third time since the third book, The New World, came out.

I'm glad I did. I didn't fully appreciate how rich a world Stackpole created the first time around.

The story revolves around the Anturasi clan, the royal cartographers of Nalenyr. They are charged with charting the world around them, a world emerging from the throes of what they call the Cataclysm, when a massive release of wild magic brought about an ice age. The charts created by Qiro Anturasi, the clan's patriarch, allows the merchants of Nalenyr to prosper greatly, much to the envy of their neighbors.

Qiro sends his two grandsons, Keles and Jorim, out on expeditions into the unknown. Keles is sent to explore the Wastes, a place where wild magic still reigns. Jorim is sent south on a ship called the Stormwolf to discover new lands. Both men are accompanied by interesting companions as they put themselves in danger, trying to appease their tempermental grandfather.

But other forces are afoot. Prince Pyrust, the regent of Deseirion, is intent on building an empire for himself and threatens Nalenyr. And on top of that, sinister forces are building that could easily tear apart the world as the Anturasi's know it.

Like I said, I had to read this book three times to truly appreciate it. The world that Stackpole has created for his characters to inhabit is so rich and densely layered with cultures and history that it took me that many times to become truly comfortable with it. Don't let that daunt you, though! Maybe I'm just slow.

Part of the reason I had trouble with the density of the backstory is that I missed some details the first time through. For example, at the end of the book, a character reveals himself. This character is a major bad-guy who gets mentioned in passing once or twice earlier in the book. But because it was only in passing, I had forgotten about him completely when he finally popped up. I was completely confused the first time when I got there. The second and third time, though, I caught the earlier references.

That's only a minor criticism. Really, go read these books. They're a good magical romp set in a world that is slowly being discovered.

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