RogerBW's Blog

Destiny's Shield, David Drake and Eric Flint 11 April 2021

1999 alternate-history war story, third of six books. Belisarius takes an army to help the Persians throw the invading Malwa out of Mesopotamia; his wife Antonina suppresses civil unrest in Alexandria.

So it's still fun, but it feels like a middle volume. I think that one of the problems here is that there still isn't really a sense of an overall strategic goal: Team Evil invades somewhere, Team Good goes to push it back, lots of clever strategy and tactics ensue. But we've got to know the principal cast, and there isn't much of a sense of progress here, other than "lots of enemy ships went out, fewer than two dozen came back"; I assume that the point of all this is that, in spite of Team Evil's casually-fielded massive armies, all those troop losses are eventually going to hurt them, but we don't see it hurting them.

The things I liked most from the second book, the smart opposition that makes the story more than just a contest of big and stupid versus small and clever, are largely gone (even the supposedly super-smart time-traveller who's aiding the enemy is on stage mostly to make a big mistake). There's never any sense of danger to the protagonists, or that their efforts might fail even to the extent of a small setback. They don't even lose arguments. This book is basically the climax of a conventional story, where the good guys finally have all the advantages and get to win, stretched out to book length. (I know people who argue that stories, and games, should end just before this point; they will not enjoy this book.)

And in spite of that it's not a bad book. It's enjoyable. The tactics and strategy are interesting, the royal canal between the Tigris and the Euphrates is more or less historical, and this is basically competence porn of smart people prevailing by doing things they're good at. The characterisation is often shallow, but this does at least mean that it's easy to keep track of who's who even as we shift between scenes and deal with a substantial cast. It's good crust, but it's still more crust than pie.

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Previous in series: In the Heart of Darkness | Series: Belisarius

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