Out of the Waters (The Books of the Elements, Vol. 2)
by David Drake
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320797
Date: 19 July 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The city of Carce has been saved from fire by Varus' family and his friend Corylus. Now it faces destruction by the forces of Atlantis and the water elementals. Once again Varus and the others will need to step forward to stave off defeat.
The story begins as Varus' father Saxa is hosting a play. During the play a strange vision of the destruction of a city plays out before the gathered crowd. Most think it is due to the stagecraft of the actors and stage crew, but Varus, his sister Alphena, his step mother Hedia, and Corylus recognize it as something else. They see the threat but do not understand it.
Three magicians are present at the show and later arrange the kidnapping of Varus' teacher. Saxa goes out on a limb for his son and authorizes entrance into the magicians hosts home. During the struggle with the magicians, Corylus is sent to another plane. Each of the main characters heads into this plane to fight the forces that would destroy Carce.
Readers of the series will recognize many of the cities mentioned. For the most part, the locations in the Empire are those of this world. Author Drake acknowledges the similarity of this Empire to Rome, but Carce is not Rome. Magic is real in Carce, but most other things are similar to Rome. There are some differences in the Carce's layout and that which is assumed is Rome, but really isn't as modern Rome bears little resemblance to its ancient forebear.
The second book of elements follows a similar trajectory as the first. Readers will learn more about the major characters. Each character is developing and growing. Alphena is learning to command without screaming and yelling. Varus is becoming more sure of himself and finding that he has more magical potential than he thought. Hedia is becoming closer to her family while not forgetting her own pleasure. Corylus is coming to terms with his ancestry. Even Saxa is accepting that his son is becoming a man and seeing a few more of his limitations.
As the second book in a series, this isn't the best entry point. That said, the back story is pretty well laid out and new readers should be able to follow the story without reading the first. There are some unknowns, there is an emperor that seems similar to Tiberius and it will be interesting to see if he is brought forward in future novels.
This series is different from Drake's well known military SF. Some authors struggle outside their best known worlds, Drake doesn't. Fans of Drake's other works shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up as well. There are more books to come, and I look forward to each and every one. There is some similarity to the Oath of Empire series by Thomas Harlan as both are based on a magical Roman empire.