Monsters of the Earth by David Drake
Monsters of the Earth by David Drake (Tor, 2013) Books of the Elements 3, sees us following the story of this fictitious version of Rome. With our heroes returned to a placid life of decadent luxury “by local standards” after saving the multiverse from Atlantean destruction, we’re treated to another round of historical drudgery with the first third of the book traipsing round the households and going on a shopping trip to get us in the mood for some exciting fantasy action. For those of you who want to get the full flavour of life in “those times”, this is an indispensable part of the book. In structural terms, it confirms the imminent arrival of another cataclysmic threat. Yes, two large crystalline beasts, somewhat along the lines of caterpillar vacuum cleaners, are going to emerge from the earth and scour the surface until there’s no life left. No-one will care what happens next because there will be no-one around to care.
Our self-deprecating hero who prefers not to think of himself as the greatest magician of his age, feels under pressure to save the world (again). There’s just one problem. He has absolutely no idea how to do it. All he knows is that once released, these worms are unstoppable until they either run out of surface to consume, or they are stopped. Note the slight paradox there. His vision tells him the worms of doom have already been activated and so are unstoppable, yet they are not yet into scouring mode and so are stoppable. Or something. If you still care enough, you can read this to split the hairs and come up with the answers which revolve around this book of magic. It seems whoever holds the book may have some say in the doom thing. So, not surprisingly, the plot has two major expeditions to recover said tome. Yes, there are two magicians who want the book. Well, there are actually three magicians, not counting the hero, the tree whisperer and the griffin wrangler, but only two of them are book collectors. There’s a nonhuman magician as well but she’s only along for the ride and, for those of you counting, there’s also a demon with magical powers who gets dragged around and told what to do (life can be tough when you’re an imprisoned demon).
Anyway, back to the original two magicians: one has come up with a magnificent way of distracting the guardian of the cave where the pivotal book is kept. This involves the hero’s mother and, depending on your point of view, this should not happen to a dog let alone a dignified Roman matriarch. But it does, so we all have to get over it without cracking too many jokes at the end. This magician has good powers and can step straight through a mirror portal from his bedroom to the island where the cave is to be found. The second magician who has our hero as his passenger is moderately powerful, but it only extends to recruiting a crew to row a small(ish) boat to the island. Needless to say, he gets there too late. The third magician who has no interest in the book manages to move through interdimensional doors. He puts together a small army of big creatures called Ethiopes, and they trample backwards and forwards and across time in search of the Egg. Yes, I knew that would recapture your interest. We do eventually find out what the Egg is. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s worth the wait.
To sum up, people who will later be of interest move around this alternate version of Rome for the first third of the book. A fancy piece of headgear is purchased at an exclusive store but has no real significance or importance later in the book. We meet four “captured” lizard men who agree to stay captured for quite some time. And then it’s off we go in the underwhelming quest as our group of regulars, all starting from different points, contrive to end up at the same place and time for the climactic ending with the wormy caterpillar things actually chewing up the landscape. If we were to take not less than one-hundred pages out of this volume, Monsters of the Earth would be a reasonable plot. As it is, this is a tediously boring read.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.