Bjørn reviews Lord and King, the third book in P.L. Stuart‘s epic fantasy series, The Drowned Kingdom, published on April 30th, 2023.
Previously on the blog: Jen’s review of A Drowned Kingdom
|Series: The Drowned Kingdom #3||Genre: literary fantasy, epic fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: April 30, 2023||Trigger Warnings: blood, death, child abuse, sex, violence|
|Page count: N/A||Publisher: FriesenPress|
Finally Lord and King of Eastrealm, Othrun aims to restore the glory of his drowned homeland, Atalantyx. But dangerous warlords are determined to stop Othrun from rising to further power.
Furthermore, Eastrealm’s ruler must confront internal forces that could tear his new kingdom apart. Embattled Othrun is also devastated by personal tragedy. His belief in his Single God, and his ambiguous guiding spirit, has never been more tenuous.
To fight his enemies, Othrun needs more than faith, or his formidable knights. He needs a mage on his side. Is the conniving Queen Lysi, with her divided loyalties, and her own designs for Othrun, the ally he needs? Or, are there other mages who can help the beleaguered young king, who he can trust?
And, Lysi is not the only formidable queen Othrun must contend with. An inexorable power, tied to ancient founders of Eltnish civilization, is coming. A legendary ruler, the likes of whom has not been seen for centuries, plans to reclaim what’s owed to her.
She is named, Undala.
Fear for Othrun, and anyone else who dares stand in her way.
Othrun is clever, bold, resourceful. Yet, kingship comes with many challenges, including facing the cunning, powerful, vengeful enemies surrounding him, marking him for death. Will Othrun’s reign end on the battlefield, in blood, before it’s barely begun?
“And what would you do to men sworn to you, who broke their oaths, to serve their own ends? No matter how noble, or how important, those ends may seem to them? […] Yet, you would do the same crime, for which others would be slain.”
In Marian L Thorpe’s Empress & Soldier it isn’t incorrect to describe Druisius as “a thug and a rent boy.” Similarly, the protagonist of The Drowned Kingdom series can be accurately described as an unlikeable bigot, whose personality threatens to ruin the reader’s enjoyment. Fortunately, in Lord and King Othrun becomes somewhat less of an ass. Now it’s all good, finally. Bring on the bloodbaths! *smack of the lips*
Many readers and reviewers find A Drowned Kingdom to be an uncomfortable read – racism, homophobia, bigotry presented from the bigot’s point of view. Othrun is not a protagonist we’d like to identify with. He demands for history to be rewritten – facts be damned, Othrun knows better. While he’s obviously always morally superior, those morals swiftly adjust when his personal interests are at stake. So, he’s not the true heir for the throne and has no blood rights to be the King, as laws demand? Well, is the “real” heir the Chosen One, fathered by the Anchali? I DON’T THINK SO. Laws do not apply to Chosen Ones, who, just in case, choose not to share that unrelated information. Othrun is horrified by the story of a massacre his uncle tells him in The Last of the Atalanteans, until the uncle gets to the word “gold.” All of a sudden, the massacre is no longer important. The Single God, who is love and light, wouldn’t want to see gold in the hands of someone who is not Othrun.
In Lord and King, Othrun’s views begin to…shift. He still doesn’t see himself as prejudiced, because that would mean he was wrong about something, and Othrun simply isn’t wrong about things. Can other religions or deities exist? Well, okay, perhaps they can. Can they be superior, though? Absolutely not. The Single God is the only real one, no matter how much evidence to the contrary piles up. Queen Undala, whom Othrun swears to see and treat as his equal, must nevertheless renounce her faith and take his. Equality only goes this far. Promises can be broken, political alliances – risked, but the Queen must understand that Othrun is right and she is wrong in order for them to be equals.
Lord and King, like Stuart’s previous books, places a mirror in front of the reader. Why do we feel that a good king should slay hundreds or thousands of Others, and that makes him a hero – but the discovery that the realm he claimed as his is actually poor doesn’t reflect badly on his shining armour? When (if) we notice the blood stains on a golden collar Othrun is presented with in the very beginning of the first book in the series, what do we want that to mean? Who do we want the Anib to be and what do we want Othrun to do to them?
There is a scene in the book that felt like a punch to the face to me. It’s based on real events: Othrun discovers that priests and bishops have been torturing and starving “heathen” children in the name of the Single God. Infuriated, Lord King does something that can be politically dangerous, as the church wields lots of power. Once he calms down, his personal feelings fully expressed, he and his advisors begin to work on a palatable version of events, one that would allow both Othrun and the church to look good. The bit that hurt – because of how true it was – was the shipment of the children away, quickly, before anybody else finds out. I was born in Poland and I know all too well how this works. The Single God is all love and light, the clergy know best, but this, here, doesn’t look all that good, therefore the evidence – the children, nameless, uncounted, one mass – must be disposed with. Nicely, of course, and with lots of compassion, off they go. Love and light may continue. We apologise for this inconvenient interruption. Let us return to the scheduled performative programming. And the battles. Why would the author even write about this stuff at all? We’re not reading to be confronted with reality, we’re reading for escapism. But why does escapism equal a bloodbath? Why do we want those epic battles and gruesome deaths?
Amongst the lengthy speeches and negotiations, which will hopefully lead to some more slaying, Stuart smuggles beautiful jabs. “We have assumed your consent, Lord King,” made me cheer and whoop loudly. “I couldn’t believe that I, King of Eastrealm, had been cut out of the proceedings as if I didn’t exist. Or rather, I had allowed myself to be cut out, by Undala,” Othrun huffs. Undala, whom he swore to think of as his equal. That’s a bit too equal. How can she not know her space in the equality committee? “Do you know the tale of Ungala, the Peaceful, Lord King?” asks Undala. Othrun doesn’t. The tale comprises of four sentences. She was the greatest. Then she died. The end. There is no story in peace. “You are a wonderful lover. But not an observant one, I fear,” Undala says to Othrun.
There is a lot to be observed in Lord and King, and a lot to be enjoyed, and every reader will define this overlap differently. Twice in my life, I reviewed a book, then went back to adjust the score higher, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A Drowned Kingdom was one of those books. Lord and King is Stuart’s finest achievement to date and book four will be, I have no doubt, better. It left me with a lot of thoughts and questions, only one of which involved the number of the slain in this or that battle. Namely – why does one become a bigger hero every time the death counter goes up?
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