Sean Russell

HarperCollins Eos / 480 pages / (June 2003)

ISBN: 0380793229

Barely a moment seems to have passed between the devastating and tragic events at the close of The One Kingdom and the dramatic opening sentences of The Isle of Battle. The Swans’ War rages on; the reader had best be ready to hit the ground running and keep up with the action. There aren’t going to be many chances for the characters in this fantasy saga or those racing alongside in the narrative to stop for a respite from here on out.

For those of us who walk about with casts of thousands in our head every day, Sean Russell has been kind enough to bring us back up to speed with a concise and very helpful refresher passage before the main action is off at a run. Whether it’s been awhile since you read the first volume, or if you are jumping into this series at the second, the quick sketch supplies the framework necessary to understand The Isle of Battle, and why so much rests on this tiny plot of land. If you haven’t read The One Kingdom though, the loss is entirely yours.

Focus in The Isle of Battle has shifted drastically away from the tale of the travellers on the run from the law, responsibility, and an evil sorcerer. The air of adventure is gone, replaced with a dark, close atmosphere of apprehension and impending doom. The crafty band of minstrels, highwaymen, and woodsmen remain, but their only aim now is merely to survive Hafydd and the war that has come to the kingdom.

Even the court intrigues of the past are almost abandoned in the face of betrayal, assassination, and, if not to head-off the coming war, then to emerge the victors. The women of the powerful Renne are left to deal with the aftermath of one traumatic night, reluctantly taking up the reins of power to make a bid for peace as their men hunt down the traitors among them. It is an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at the fascinating women who may well be the true strength and wisdom of one of the warring clans.

As in the previous volume, Russell’s striking descriptions make an animated character of the locales themselves. Much of the story takes place in a very different setting this time, very different from The One Kingdom and very different from any place a mere mortal could locate on a map of the kingdom. More disturbing still, a simple human being might stumble upon this endless canvas direct from the worst nightmares, but would never find the way out, unaided.

The Isle of Battle is altogether a darker vision of the One Kingdom, a point-of-no-return in the oncoming Swans’ War, a deepening of deceptions and betrayals, and possibly a final awful contest between the Children of Wyrr. What awaits us in the next, astonishing volume? All we can do is wait.