“It was just pretend, I told myself, as we marched. A game. A play. Theatre.”
A drowned kingdom may rise again in The Last of the Atalanteans, the second volume of P.L. Stuart’s Drowned Kingdom Saga, a dark epic fantasy inspired by the mythology of Atlantis.
The Last of the Atalanteans picks up immediately after the end of P.L. Stuart’s excellent debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom, as Prince Othrun of Atalanyx seeks to rebuild his kingdom in a foreign land following the dramatic submersion of his former island home.
Othrun considers the restoration of his kingdom to be a divine mission, viewing himself as the savior chosen by his one true God. By establishing a new kingdom in pagan lands—through political manipulations and force, if necessary—Othrun might also convert people he considers as heathens to his own monotheistic faith.
As in the first book of the series, The Last of the Atalanteans is a single point-of-view narrative told from Othrun’s first-person perspective. Single point-of-view epic fantasies are a rare breed these days, presumably due to the influence of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. When done properly, the focus provided by having a single narrator can bring an unparalleled depth to the psychological analysis of that character.
P.L. Stuart achieves this goal exquisitely in The Last of the Atalanteans. His depiction of Othrun reaches a Dostoevskian depth that also recalls Mark Lawrence’s outstanding characterization of Jorg Ancrath in his Broken Empire trilogy. Both Stuart and Lawrence present complex worlds from characters having tunnel vision; but while Jorg is angry and impulsive, Othrun is calm and methodical in his very ambitious pursuits.
The first half of The Last of the Atalanteans had some minor pacing issues as Othrun and two other lords go on an undercover political mission, but P.L. Stuart absolutely nails the second half of the novel, leading up to one of the strongest finales that I’ve read since Lawrence’s King of Thorns.
Grimdark readers will also love P.L. Stuart’s masterful depiction of gray morality in this series. Othrun has constructed a system of internal logic that, at times, makes him seem like a beacon of rationality in a world gone mad. But readers will recoil in horror as Othrun applies this same system of logic to justify racism, sexism, colonialism, and religious zealotry.
P.L. Stuart demonstrates how irrational and often dangerous conclusions can be drawn from a self-consistent but twisted set of moral codes. In this way, Othrun captures the seductive arguments employed by leaders throughout history, who have used similar tactics to justify evils ranging from oppression and colonialism to slavery and genocide. Shades of Othrun are also evident in many of today’s world leaders, who use a similar morality distortion field to justify their nationalistic pursuits.
Beyond the lead protagonist himself, P.L. Stuart excels at describing Othrun’s complex relationships with other characters. The bond between Othrun and his elderly uncle is a highlight of the book, especially as Othrun learns of the horrific deeds committed by this man whom he so idolizes. These deeds are really just magnified versions of Othrun’s own sins. Holding this mirror up to Othrun’s own morality could be an opportunity for introspection, or it could merely clear the pathway toward greater evil.
Other highlights are the evolving relationships between Othrun and two of the lead female characters. Othrun appears genuine in his feelings for his wife, Aliaz, infatuated by her physical beauty and appreciative of her marital fidelity. But as a woman, Othrun considers Aliaz to be an inherently inferior being: a subject rather than an equal.
However, Othrun’s interactions with Lysi—a feared warrior, powerful mage, and ascending queen of a pagan land—lead him to question these gender stereotypes. With Lysi, Othrun finds someone strong enough to be considered his equal, which he perceives in terms of masculine traits in her character. Othrun is strangely drawn to Lysi while knowing full well the danger that she poses to both his political aspirations and his marriage.
Stuart provides plenty of opportunities for Othrun to grow as a character. Part of the appeal of this second book of the series is seeing whether Othrun will actually take these opportunities to grow in a positive way, or if he will delve deeper into his bigoted thinking and actions.
P.L. Stuart’s writing is immaculate in The Last of the Atalanteans, drawing me in from the very first page. As in A Drowned Kingdom, Stuart’s prose strikes the perfect balance between gravity and accessibility.
Overall, The Last of the Atalanteans is an outstanding follow-up to A Drowned Kingdom and left me eager to dive into Lord and King, the third volume of P.L. Stuart’s planned seven-book Drowned Kingdom Saga.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.