The next installment in the Heirs of Alexandria series is here! It took me all of three days to read it, tops, and that was while I was doing other things. Actually it might have been two days, I kind of lost track. Burdens of the Dead offers yet another compulsive read, much like the other books in the series, and explores a fantastical Renaissance-that-might-have-been in which magic works, demons plot the conquest of mankind, and forgotten gods still roam the Earth. If you haven’t read the other books in the series and any of that piques your interest, I strongly recommend that you pick up The Shadow of the Lion, the first installment in the series. I really love this series…
I know that I’ve mentioned my love for Eric Flint’s writing style previously; in many ways reading his work is like eating comfort food. Mercedes Lackey’s writing is much the same. Dave Freer’s solo effort in A Mankind Witch (also part of the series, the first few chapters are free here) was a little less comfortable simply for being less familiar, but had many of the same qualities. Putting them all together is exactly as good as it should be, with each adding to the others’ strengths.
One of the things that I like most about the setting is the divergence which Flint, Freer & Lackey have used as their jumping off point. Rather than seeing the Library of Alexandria burned to the ground and Hypatia murdered by fanatical monks, in this world Hypatia converted and was canonized as a saint and the Library survived under her protection. With the survival of the Library of Alexandria, knowledge of magic and much ancient lore has been preserved for future generations. Furthermore, there is an order of Christian monks founded by St. Hypatia herself which teaches tolerance and compassion. Pretty groovy all around.
So now you know that I love the series, but how about this book? I mean, a book can be totally addictive and not actually be very good, right? Don’t worry. This is the sort of addiction that you’d want to come back to even if you weren’t addicted. You can clearly trust my opinion on this, because I don’t sound like I’m hooked at all.
I want to talk about the book itself, but I suspect I would spoil a great deal of the earlier stories for you if I did. If you don’t want *SPOILERS*, just take my advice and try the series. My guess is that you’ll be happy that you did.
Since I still want to preserve the story for you as much as possible, I’ll speak in generalities…
We’ve known for a while now that the main characters of the original book are very powerful individuals. It seems like the authors have made a habit of leveling-up their characters quite rapidly over the course of each story, with the characters almost inevitably becoming far more powerful by the end of the story than they had been at the beginning. At this point, if the authors want to challenge their characters they either have to create new characters who do not yet have incredible power, or they have to give their old characters far more dangerous foes to fight.
Because this story returns to the older characters of the series, you can already guess which option they took. The characters must deal with forgotten and ancient gods while they counter the plots of the demon Chernobog and protect their families, all as a matter of course. Honestly, this grand scale is where I felt like the story was at its most dull. I didn’t have a deep sense of the powers moving at the level at which our protagonists were operating, despite the fact that they’re clearly on risky ground. Dealing with ancient gods seems a bit like old hat for the main characters (to be fair, they have done it before), which doesn’t lend itself to my sense of excitement. But I continue to be impressed by how well these writers know their craft; the story isn’t surprising (at least, I wasn’t surprised), but it is excellently written and will grab your attention and hold it. So while I don’t know how much longer they’ll be able to write about these characters without having to jump the shark, I think they managed to swing it this time.
The only two characters that I think are still set up for dealing with the same sorts of adventures that they started off facing are Prince Manfred and his bodyguard Erik, and they hardly appear in this novel. But since the authors are so clearly capable of coming up with new, fun characters to follow (witness A Mankind Witch, and Much Fall of Blood), I expect that the series will continue to prosper. I certainly hope it does, since I think it’s absolutely fabulous.
In case you can’t tell, I think you should read this book. And all of the other ones in the series. If you already have, let me know what you think!