“Exceptional . . . Duncan can swashbuckle with the best, but his characters feel more deeply and think more clearly than most” (Publishers Weekly).Raider and Wasp have spent five years at Ironhall studying to become Blades, expert swordsmen whose talents stand unmatched. Magic both enhances the Blades’ fighting skills and binds them to lifelong duty. But when Raider and Wasp are selected to protect the king of Chivial himself, they refuse, an act unprecedented in the living history of the Blades. Now on the run for their “treasonous” act, the two gifted swordsmen must escape to the Fire Lands, where pirates, monsters, and mixed allegiances wait around every corner. As old hatreds and still‑fresh tragedies come to light, these young swashbucklers must confront both harsh truths from the past and a present swarming with their would‑be brothers at arms seeking vengeance and intending punishment.
Dave Duncan’s Lord of the Fire Lands serves as a splendid sequel and companion to his earlier book The Gilded Chain, and his later Tale of the King’s Blades Sky of Swords. Engaging and complex, it may be enjoyed as a standalone novel or in combination with the rest of the trilogy. Either way, readers are in for a smart, thrilling adventure that cuts like a knife.
About the Author
Dave Duncan (1933–2018) was born in Scotland, and received his diploma from Dundee High School and got his college education at the University of Saint Andrews. He moved to Canada in 1955, where he lived with his wife. Duncan spent thirty years as a petroleum geologist. He has had dozens of fantasy and science fiction novels published, among them A Rose-Red City, Magic Casement, and The Reaver Road, as well as a highly praised historical novel, Daughter of Troy, published, for commercial reasons, under the pseudonym Sarah B. Franklin. He also published the Longdirk series of novels, Demon Sword, Demon Knight, and Demon Rider, under the name Ken Hood. In the fall of 2007, Duncan’s 2006 novel, Children of Chaos, published by Tor Books, was nominated for both the Prix Aurora Award and the Endeavour Award. In May 2013, Duncan, a 1989 founding member of SFCanada, was honored by election as a lifetime member by his fellow writers, editors, and academics. He passed away in 2018. Visit https://www.daveduncanauthor.com/ for more information on the author.
Read an Excerpt
Lord of the Fire Lands
A Tale of the King's Blades
By Dave Duncan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Dave Duncan
All rights reserved.
"The King is coming!" The excited cry rang out over the sun-bright moorland and was picked up at once by a half dozen other shrill trebles and a couple of wavering baritones. Alarmed horses tossed heads and kicked up heels. The cavalcade on the Blackwater Road was still very far off, but sharp young eyes could make out the blue livery of the Royal Guard, or so their owners claimed. In any case, a troop of twenty or thirty men riding across Starkmoor could be no one but the Guard escorting the King to Ironhall. At last! It had been more than half a year.
"The King is coming! The King is coming!"
"Silence!" shouted Master of Horse. The sopranos' riding classes always teetered close to chaos, and this one was now hopeless. "Go and tell the Hall. First man in is excused stable duties for a month. On my signal. Get ready—"
He was speaking to the wind. His charges were already streaming over the heather toward the lonely cluster of black buildings that housed the finest school of swordsmanship in the known world. He watched to see who fell off, who was merely hanging on, who was in control. It was unkind to treat horses so, especially the aging, down-at-heel nags assigned to beginners; but his job was to turn out first-class riders. In a very few years those boys must be skilled enough and fearless enough to keep up with anyone, even the King himself—and when Ambrose IV went hunting he usually left a trail of stunned and mangled courtiers in the hedges and ditches.
There went one ... and another ... Ouch!—a bad one. No matter, young bones could be repaired by conjuration and the mounts seemed to be surviving. Unrepentant, Master of Horse rode forward to rescue the casualties. On this blustery spring afternoon in the year 357, the moor had masked its ancient menace behind a deceptive glow of friendship, soft and green and smelling of clover. The sky was unbelievably blue. Broom was bursting into yellow glory. There could be few things finer in all creation than having a reasonably good mount and an excuse to ride it flat out. As the race faded into the distance, he could see that the piebald mare was going to win, thanks more to her own abilities than the skills of her rider, Candidate Bandit.
Ten minutes after the sighting, the winner thundered in through the gate and yelled oat the news to the first people he saw, who happened to be a group of fuzzies engaged in rapier drill. "The King is coming!"
In seconds the word was everywhere, or almost everywhere. The candidates—sopranos, beansprouts, beardless, fuzzies, and especially the exalted seniors who wore swords—all reacted with indrawn breath and sudden internal tenseness, but even the instructors narrowed their eyes and pursed their lips. The Masters of Sabers and Rapiers heard it on the fencing ground, Master Armorer in the Forge. Master of Rituals got the word in a turret room, where he was studying arcane spells, and Master of Archives in a cellar, where he was packing ancient records into fireproof chests. All of them paused to ponder what else they need do to prepare for a royal visit. The answer, in all cases, was absolutely nothing. They were more than ready, because it had been seven months since Ambrose had come to the school. In all that time, only one candidate had been promoted to Blade. The question now—of especial interest to the seniors—was: How many would the King harvest this time?
The lowest of the low was the Brat, who was thirteen years old and had been admitted to Ironhall only two days previously. On the theory that a man can get used to anything, he had concluded that this must be the third worst day of his life. Down on his knees, he was attempting to wash the main courtyard with a bucket of water and a small rag—an impossible task that had been assigned to him by a couple of beansprouts because trying to drive the Brat crazy was the juniors' traditional pastime. Having all survived Brat-hood themselves, they felt justified in giving what they had received. Few of them ever realized that they were being tested just as much as the Brat was and would be expelled if they displayed any real sadism.
An elderly knight passing by when the shout went up told the Brat to run and inform Grand Master. Grand Master was the highest of the high, but the Brat felt comfortable near him, safe from persecution. Grand Master did not dunk him in a water trough or make him stand on a table and sing lewd songs.
The old man was in his study, going over accounts with the Bursar. He displayed no emotion at the news. "Thank you," he said. "Wait, though. Bursar, can we continue this another time?" Then, as the other man was gathering up his ledgers, he turned back to the Brat and absolutely ruined his third worst day. "His Majesty will undoubtedly bind some of the seniors tomorrow night. You have heard of the ritual?"
"He sticks a sword through their hearts?" the Brat said uneasily. It was a sick-making thought, because one day it would happen to him.
"Yes, he does. It is a very potent conjuration to turn them into Blades. Don't worry, they always survive." Almost always. "But you will have a part in the ritual."
"Me?" the Brat squawked. Conjury? With the King present? That was worse than a hundred water troughs, a thousand....
"Yes, you. You have three lines to say and you lay the candidate's sword on the anvil. Go and find Master of Rituals and he will instruct you. No, wait. First find Prime and make sure he knows about the King." Prime, after all, must have more interest in the royal visit than any other candidate, for his fate was certain now. Whoever else the King took, Prime would be first. "He'll be in the library."
Regrettably, Grand Master was wrong. The seniors were not in the library that afternoon. The Brat had not yet learned his way around the school and was too unsure of himself to ask for help, so he never did deliver the message. By the time Raider heard of the King's approach, the royal procession was at the gates and escape had become impossible.
Even before the King's arrival, that day had been a memorable one in Ironhall. Two swords had been Returned and three names written in the Litany of Heroes. It was the Litany that was special. Returns were common enough, for the school had been turning out Blades for several centuries and they were mortal like other men. Unless a Blade was lost at sea or died in a far country, his sword came back at last to Ironhall to hang in the famous sky of swords.
Every newcomer began as the Brat. The ideal recruit was around fourteen with good eyes and fast reflexes, either orphaned or rejected by his family, and at least rebellious—preferably a holy terror. As old Sir Silver had said on numerous occasions: "The wilder the better. You can't put an edge on soft metal." Some of them were driven out by the hazing, a few gave up later, and very rarely a boy was expelled. Those who lasted the full five years emerged as the finest swordsmen in the world, companions in the Loyal and Ancient Order of the King's Blades, every one as sharp and polished and deadly as the cat's-eye sword he was then privileged to wear. The King accepted about half of them into the Royal Guard and assigned the rest to ministers, relatives, courtiers, or anyone else he chose. To serve was an honor, and Grand Master turned away many more boys than he accepted.
It was only four years since Lord Bannerville, the Chivian ambassador to Fitain, had bound Sir Spender as his third Blade. When Fitain had erupted in civil war, Spender and his two brother Blades, Sir Burl and Sir Dragon, had managed to smuggle their ward out of the chaos, but the latter two had died in the process. That morning Spender had Returned their swords.
Standing in the hall under that baleful canopy of five thousand swords, the survivor told the story to the assembled candidates, masters, and knights. He said very little about his own part; but his limp, his pallor, and the jumpiness in his voice backed up the eye-popping stories of his injuries that had been whispered around beforehand. Everyone knew that a Blade defending his ward was harder to kill than a field of dandelions. But death was not impossible, and many of the juniors were openly sobbing by the end of the tale.
The hero ate lunch in private with Grand Master and some other teachers. He wanted to leave right after the meal, but Master of Protocol persuaded him to stay and instruct the seniors on politics. Prime invited him to do so in the tower. Thus most of the seniors were in the tower that afternoon, which was why the Brat did not find them.
Ironhall had never been a castle, but its wild moorland setting had inspired some long-forgotten builder to festoon parts of it with turrets, loopholes, and fake battlements. The most obvious of these follies was the tower whose attic served as the seniors' private lair. Generations of future Blades had idled in its squalor without ever having a single thought of cleaning or tidying. The furniture was in ruins and heaps of discarded clothes and miscellaneous clutter moldered in the corners. But by tradition—and everything in Ironhall ran on tradition—no one ever set foot up there except the seniors themselves—not Blades, not Grand Master, not even the King. No one had ever explained why any of those men should want to, but the invitation to Sir Spender was supposedly a great honor. It also kept Master of Protocol out.
Wasp was the first to arrive, trotting up the stairs carrying a respectable ladder-back chair for the guest, which he placed in front of the fireplace. He rearranged a few of the other chairs to face it and then nabbed his favorite for himself, leaning back in its moldering excretions of stuffing to watch the others arrive. Fox appeared and made a dive for the second-best chair; Herrick led in six or seven more; then there was a pause while Sir Spender came up one step at a time, escorted by Prime. More seniors clattered up behind them, chattering like starlings. They draped themselves on tables or rickety stools, propped themselves against the walls, or just sprawled on the boards.
"Flames and death!" the guest declaimed. "This place is still the same disgusting midden it was when I left. Have those windows ever been cleaned?"
"Certainly not!" said Mallory, who was Second. "You can't break tradition that way in Ironhall!"
"Those look like the same ashes in the hearth."
"They're traditional ashes," said Victor, who fancied himself as a humorist. "And the cobwebs are priceless."
Spender limped over to the fireplace to hunt for his signature, for all the paneling and the steeply pitched roof and even parts of the floor were inscribed with the names of former candidates. Wasp was written near the door, very small within an overlarge initial; and he had found two other Wasp inscriptions, although Master of Archives had records of only one Blade by that name, an undistinguished member of the Royal Guard back in the days of Everard III. The other must have been even earlier and spectacularly mediocre. It would be the third Wasp who made the name memorable!
Herrick was very dark, Victor unusually blond, and Raider—who would not be coming—had hair as red as a Bael's; but with that trivial exception of coloring the seniors were as alike as brothers: all lean and agile, moving with the wary grace of jungle predators, neither too small to be dangerous nor too large to be nimble. Five years of constant effort, superb instruction, and in most cases a dash or two of conjuration had produced these fledgling Blades, awaiting only their master's call. Even their features seemed alike, with no extreme bat ears or crooked teeth. Wasp wondered if he was just noticing all this anew because Spender so obviously belonged there, an older brother come home to visit. Few Blades cared to remember any other home. Wasp was an exception there, but then he was exceptional in other ways too painful to think about.
Raider hurtled up the stairs three at a time and strode over to flop down on the floor under the south window, putting his back against the wall and stretching out his long legs. He caught Wasp's eye and grinned at his surprise. Wasp rose and went to sit beside him, putting friendship ahead of comfort and provoking a minor tussle as three men simultaneously tried to claim the chair he had abandoned.
"Thought you were drilling beansprouts in sabers?"
Raider's emerald-green eyes twinkled. "I wrapped Dominic's leg around his neck until he offered to help me out." He was lying, of course. Giving the juniors fencing practice was never the most popular of assignments; but only Raider would rather listen to a talk on politics, even with the Order's latest hero doing the talking. Dominic would have agreed to the exchange very readily.
The door slammed, then Fitzroy came clumping up the stair to announce that this was everyone. Wasp looked around and counted two dozen seniors present. Traditionally there should be less than that in the whole class, but the King had assigned only one Blade in seven months. Poor Wolfbiter had been twenty-one by the time he was bound last week. Bullwhip was twenty. The rest were all eighteen or nineteen, unless some of them were lying about their ages—as Wasp was.
As Prime, Bullwhip made a little speech. He was chunky by Blade standards, a slasher not a stabber—meaning saber not rapier—sandy-colored, the sort of man who would charitably be described as "stolid." He was certainly no orator. Spender thanked him, took the chair Wasp had brought, and began to talk politics, specifically politics that led to civil war.
Master of Protocol and his assistants had the unenviable task of preparing the candidates for life at court. That included teaching them dancing, deportment, elocution, etiquette, some history, and a lot of politics. By their senior year it was almost all politics—taxes, Parliament, foreign affairs, the machinations of the great houses. Frenetically active and athletic young men would much rather be fencing or out riding on the moors than listening to any of that stuff, with the possible exception of the racy court scandals. At least Spender was a novelty and hence more interesting than the usual fare. The King of Fitain had lost control of his barons and failed to rally the burghers. Even kings needed allies. And so on. Twenty-four young faces made earnest efforts to seem attentive.
Only Raider would not be faking, Wasp decided. Glancing sideways he saw that his friend was indeed very intent, nodding to himself as he listened. He had the strange perversion of finding politics interesting. He was probably the only man in the room who cared a snail's eyebrow about what had happened in Fitain. Everyone else just wanted to hear about the fighting and how it felt to keep on fighting when you knew you ought to be dead after having your thigh crushed and a sword run through you.
The sky was blue beyond the dirty panes.
Back in Wasp's beansprout days he had watched Lord Bannerville bind Spender. Dragon and Burl must have been there, attending their ward, but he could not remember what they had looked like.
No one had thought to open the windows and the room held too many people; it was stuffy. Attentions were wandering.
At the far side of the room, Herrick stifled a yawn.
Suddenly Wasp's jaw took on a fearful life of its own. He struggled desperately, but the yawn escaped. That one Sir Spender noticed.
Sir Spender exploded. "Smug young bastards!" he snapped. He heaved himself to his feet. "You don't give a spit about this, do you, any of you?" His already pale face had turned white as marble. "You don't think it matters! Doesn't concern you, any of you, does it?" He glared around the room, eyes flashing with fury, left hand steadying his scabbard as if he were about to draw. "You insufferably stuck-up unbearable latrine cleaners, all of you!"
Twenty-four seniors stared up at him in horror. Wasp wanted to die. How could he have done that? Yawning! What a crass, imbecilic, childish thing to do!
Excerpted from Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan. Copyright © 1999 Dave Duncan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was an amazing novel. I couldn't get enough of it. I read for hours on end and I never wanted to put it down. I think anyone with interests in action, sorcery and mind-twisting events is very sure to love this book.
Definitely a recommended read! I was impressed that the other two books 'The Guilded Chain' and 'Sky of Swords' were the same story by another person's perspective. If you read this book...please read the other two. I lost many hours of sleep because I could not put it down. The story is of two young men who are about to enter the ranks of the kings men. Destiny binds these two men and they become outlaws. They ultimately determine the fate of the 2 kingdoms at war