Of Limited Loyalty

Of Limited Loyalty is the second book in Michael A. Stackpole’s Crown Colonies series. If you’ve read my review of the first book, At the Queen’s Command, you know that I was extremely impressed with it, and the book was about as close to a masterpiece as you could get. Having read the sequel, I’ll break my review down into several parts covering the book by itself, how it compares to it’s predecessor, and how the series is playing out as a whole.

Of Limited Loyalty picks up with the characters Nathaniel, Kamiskwa, and Owen Strake. Nathaniel is the Daniel Boone type character, a woodsman, and a lover of nature. His blood brother Kamiskwa is an Indian, one of the Twilight People, and a prince of his tribe. Owen rounds out the trio as the ex-Queen’s officer, now turned Mystrian colonial. Owen has found a new home in the Colonies, and like Owen and Kamiskwa, he’ll fight to defend it. It just so happens that a new threat is presenting itself, and on a mission to the west, they’ll find more than they bargained for.

The motivator for the adventure is prompted by the arrival of Colonel Rathfield. Rathfield is a Queen’s officer (think British officer sent over to the American colonies pre-Revolution) and a war hero. The main characters are standoffish about the colonel. Could he be a spy looking for dissension among the colonists? Or has he been sent here on a dangerous mission in hopes that he’ll never return? Either way, the main characters find themselves heading west in search of heretical colonists who have established settlements outside their relegated territories. It’s up to them to bring them in and re-establish the Queen’s reign over her subjects. They must also discover if the leader of the heretics, Ezekiel Fire, is a raving sorcerer spreading evil to the unwitting.

What would seem like a simple mission with some prospect for a fun story line takes a wild turn when Stackpole throws in some Lovecratian story telling. Mysterious ruins, strange creatures, and unspeakable powers are discovered. Meanwhile, the mechanics for magic are unveiled and new discoveries are made. Prince Vlad, the governor general of the colonies, finds a secret the church has been hiding that could change the way the entire world looks at magic. When Ezekial Fire’s bunch comes into play, readers get to enjoy a reinvention of the Mormons and Quakers that involves mystical powers. All of the magical and religious elements swirl into a subplot that quickly sweeps up the story into dramatic tension and gripping battles.

On its own, Of Limited Loyalty is a fun story that’s both engaging and entertaining. There are characters and relationships that provide an emotional roller coaster of suspense. The drama is balanced with action scenes that pit the characters against beasts, monsters, and men. Plus there are deep threads into the exploration of magic that helps define where the story may be going. For me, one of the highlights of the story was the Battle of the Octagon, which threw the reader into the battle lines and the bloody carnage of combat.

In comparison to the first novel, however, this one doesn’t quite ascend to such a high summit. I loved At the Queen’s Command and can honestly say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Not the best book, but definitely one of the best. Going into Of Limited Loyalty, the bar was pretty high. The characters had already been established, so plunging them into a new adventure didn’t have as much to offer. The exploration aspects, of both land and characters, even world building, were diminished. There were still new things to discover, but their discovery didn’t have the same impact on me as a reader. Yet without that impact, it was still a story about characters who I enjoyed. Slowly the new elements and plot lines began to boil into something suspenseful and intriguing. It took a while, and I’ll be honest, I was heavily distracted by the desire to play Skyrim, but by the halfway mark I was firmly engaged and extremely curious as to what was going to happen next.

Personally, I thought the best action in the book came towards the end. There are some books that don’t really hit the reader until the 3/4 mark. Up until then, the author builds everything together, putting all the pieces into place, and lulling the reader into this false sense of security. You think you know where the story is heading and then the sky starts falling. Minor characters begin revealing their devious plans. A tremendous battle appears out of nowhere. The action rises into a climax and the drama ratchets up in page turning addiction. When it all ends, you can finally sit back and evaluate the experience. With this book, it was the classic good sequel. It captured the same fun as the first one and delivered hours of entertainment for the reader. Although it could not capture the same thrill as the first, it still made a trip that was worth investing the time in to experience.

The Crown Colonies will continue next October with Ungrateful Rabble. Since the book is only two novels into the series, it would be unfair to compare it to the likes of The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. However, I’ve been reading two other fantasy series and it just so happens that both of them are still on their second books. In comparison to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle and Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series, I’d have to say Of Limited Loyalty just about puts The Crown Colonies on par. While the Demon Cycle series is a darker story that digs deeper at the reader’s emotions, The Crown Colonies trades some of that grimness for more adventure. I’d say it rings closer to The Kingkiller Chronicles, and in comparison, lacks only for the tremendous page count that Rothfuss engulfs the reader in. Is it a series worth getting invested in? Without a doubt, yes. If there is one thing that Stackpole excels at, it’s writing characters that don’t get on the reader’s nerves. Both Brett and Rothfuss have a habit of writing characters with some annoying traits that create cyclical, sometimes extraneous, events that can grate on the readers’ nerves to the point of disgust. Furthermore, Stackpole balances world building, character development, and storytelling in such a way that the story never gets too bogged down in any one element. He also throws in enough curve balls to make the story utterly unpredictable.

For all of those reasons, I give Of Limited Loyalty a solid 4 out of 5 metal bikinis. It continues the fun of the first book, and in expanding the series, sets a course for an explosive conclusion.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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