I think David Drake might have access to a time machine. You see, I’ve written my reviews of his books years after they were published, and yet he has consistently moved to address my concerns. He doesn’t get it exactly right every time, but he’s clearly heard me and has responded to the points that I make. He’s even usually fixed things within a book or two.
Master of the Cauldron is the sixth book in the Lord of the Isles series, the last book before the final trilogy which is supposed to wrap up all of the adventures that our heroes have been having. It continues with the excellent setting which I gushed about in my earlier reviews, still delivering on that sense of diving into a world made up of an Atlantean amalgamation of our past. In fact, much of it is very familiar. If you’ve paid attention while reading the previous books, you’ll probably be able to call most of the scenes here as they happen, or at least know the pattern of the flow as you read. So the question is, do I still like it?
I feel like this deserves a more complicated answer. The fact is, I do still like the series. But it has transitioned from being marvelous, strange and new, to being … predictable is almost the right word, but doesn’t quite feel appropriate. Predictable seems too much of an insult, and also a dangerous term for me to use (let he who is without sin throw the first stone, etc.). I suppose this has more to do with my own opinion about such things than with any attachment to a real and objective judgement. And it doesn’t offer Drake any credit for the ways in which he’s clearly used his time machine to respond to my previous critiques of his work.
For example (this has minor spoilers, but I doubt you’ll mind), I’ve complained previously about the pattern that follows Cashel’s travels through other worlds. Cashel consistently became the target of the affections of women that he had met on his journey, while he remained oblivious to their attentions and instead mooned after the woman that he loves. As I said before, I’m down with Cashel wishing he were with his lover. It’s something to which I can relate. But remember how I wished that he could have an adventure where no new person fell in love with him? Drake solved it. With a little luck this pattern will stay fixed, like how Drake fixed the problem I had with the female characters not having a chance to shine.
So, just in case you’re reading this Mr. Drake (time machine or otherwise), many thanks for all the ways that you’ve responded to my quibbles. But I have another request to make of you: could you please explain to me when it was that we learned how Evil in your setting is a dynamic and semi-unified force? The characters seem determined to think of it in that fashion, but while I’ve certainly had the sense that there are lots of problems for the heroes to deal with, I don’t have a concrete sense of Evil as a monolithic enemy in the books. Except maybe the occasionally recurring vile grayness, but we haven’t seen that that is necessarily behind all the villains of the story.
My various gripes and quibbles aside, I’m still having a good time reading these books and would certainly recommend them. They’re good, they’re fun, and they’re very comfortable to read, with plenty of enjoyable heroes whose stories I still want to follow. Keep up the good work, Mr. Drake. And I do hope you continue to use that time machine of yours.
Wait, one last *SPOILER-ISH* thing, dealing with the title. It’s no big deal, but…
Where’s the cauldron? Who’s the master of it? The other books have all had fairly obvious reasons for their titles, but I didn’t feel like this one followed suit. Is the cauldron of the title a reference to Bran’s cauldron, capable of imperfect resurrection? That could make sense, since there are many and varied wizards manufacturing people in this story. But it’s still far more indirect than the previous titles have been, unless I somehow skipped over the few important words of the book where it tells me that one of the various baddies has a cauldron. Maybe “Master of Scores of Magical Cloning Vats” just didn’t have the right ring to it?