Fantasy Book Review
Title: A Drowned Kingdom (The Drowned Kingdom Saga Book 1)
Author: P.L. Stuart
Released: February 2, 2021
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Othrun, son of King Atalan the Falcon, the Second Prince, and estranged half-brother to Erthal, the First Prince (sons of the pear-shaped island kingdom of Atalantyx), narrates this epic tale of a people who believe in “the one, true, Single God.”
Othrun is jealous of his brother and incensed when during a spy reconnaissance mission to the island of Acremia, in the Kingdom of Norsoon, in the lands of the Sanaavians, its ruler, King Mag gifts Erthal with his youngest daughter, the beautiful, tall, raven-haired heathen, Dira. It doesn’t take long for Erthal to forsake his knightly vows, and he spends the entire trip “rutting with” Dira and subsequently falling in love, while Erthal carries out their father’s mission for the trip to discover its troop sizes and defences of fortifications only to find no glory as the Second Prince upon their return to Atalantyx. They had been sent to Acremia to determine how they could conquer its pagan people, steal their land (although it was essentially only a massive pile of dirt occupied by pig farmers) and make them succumb to their belief in the one, true, Single God.
Erthal and Dira are bound to each other in a pagan handfasting ceremony, and he takes her back to Atalantyx and hides her in its main, western port city of Havenshur. This drives the chivalrous pragmatic knight, Othrun, mad, and he becomes more determined than ever to find a way to undermine the First Prince and claim the High-Chair and the Tri-Crown for himself. Having been all too aware that King Atalan has always favoured Erthal over Othrun even though both of their mothers died giving birth to them, Othrun, Second Prince, and Lord of Surtyx allows envy to get the best of him while vowing to become a warlord.
This is just the beginning of this epic tale about the destruction of a continent, through what was believed to be the wrath of the Single God for the pagans’ sacrifices of many human citizens of Atalantyx. Othrun and his 1,800 exiled followers are the last of the Atalanteans. They sail to Eltnia on the continent of Acremia, where Othrun begins what he believes is his life’s purpose, to eradicate paganism and rule all Acremia.
I am always in awe of writers who create fully realized unique worlds in which to tell their tales. P.L. Stuart has achieved this with his debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom. He made an interesting choice by making his protagonist a deeply flawed human who must evolve to survive. I had a hard time liking Othrun. He was arrogant, vain, self-righteous, and sanctimonious and at only nineteen years old thought he knew everything about what was best for his people.
I also found that the old-fashioned language Stuart used to narrate parts of the story was often tedious, but I am not a fan of thou, thee, and thus, and I certainly understand the intention behind its use.
Stuart describes in detail the world he has created, including Othrun’s favourite part of it, the Circle City, which would remind us Game of Thrones fans of the capital of Westeros.
Without giving too much of the story away, Othrun and the last of the Atalanteans embark on a tumultuous, dangerous journey with King Wely, King of Lynchun, and Hert, Crown Prince of Carthlughe, to lead their people to their new home in the Golden Valley of South Lynchun in Eltnia. Fraught with deceit and betrayal, they are bound together to form the strength needed to defeat their enemies as they are embroiled in battles for leadership and land ownership. This story ends with a cliff-hanger that will ensure that readers return for Book 2 in the series, The Last of The Atalanteans, which P.L. Stuart is currently writing.
In A Drowned Kingdom, Stuart has written a fantastical page-turner that includes some remarkable battle scenes interspersed with a lot of discussion about and planning for how the characters are going to get out of the predicament they find themselves in. It also recounts the history of the royal lineage of the main characters and sets the stage for what is undoubtedly more drama and adventure to come.
My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough sex or romance in this book to light my fire. However, I did love the character of Lysi, the Crown Princess of Nyrimia. A beautiful red-haired, powerful mage, and feared warrior, Lysi is the strong female character I was hoping for. She steals every scene she’s in and ads enough sexual tension between her and Othrun (who is married to his cousin Aliaz whom he loves) to make me want to know what’s going to happen between them next.
Fantasy fiction fans will want to take note of author P.L. Stuart whose work is bound to not only dazzle us but make us think about some of the most serious issues faced by humans throughout the ages in this book and his future work. As bestselling British author, Bernard Cornwell added A Drowned Kingdom to the Reading Club page on his website, you can be guaranteed that P.L. Stuart is a force to be reckoned with.
Interview With Author P.L. Stuart
What inspired you to write A Drowned Kingdom?
Three things inspired me to write A Drowned Kingdom.
First, I wanted to write an epic high fantasy, reminiscent of some of my favourite fantasy authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, G.R.R. Martin, T.H. White, Bernard Cornwell, N.K. Jemisin, John Gwynne, and others. That’s the kind of fantasy I love to read, and that’s what I always wanted to write.
Second, I wanted to write a book that had its origin story as my version of the legend of Atlantis.
Third, and perhaps most important, I wanted to write a book that examined various important and timely themes, like racism, misogyny, colonialism, and more. I wanted that kind of book centred around a person who came from privilege and prejudice and to examine how (if) such a person could change. To use the vernacular, “woke”. I wanted to explore the journey of someone becoming “woke”—that is to say, aware, alert, and engaged in social justice issues like racism, after being the opposite. What better context to look at this, than having the potentially “woke” person as a spoiled, privileged, obstinate nobleman, at the very pinnacle of society? Such a transformation would be engrossing to read about, in my opinion.
I look at my book kind of like a hard-boiled egg. The shell is your very traditional epic high fantasy book, with all the trappings one has become used to when reading that type of book. The white of the egg, the big part of the egg, is the tale itself, which I think is an entertaining, engaging, and highly detailed story, including my version of the Atlantis myth. The yolk is about the difficult themes I spoke of. That’s the heart of the egg and the heart of why I wrote A Drowned Kingdom. Many of the bigoted, homophobic, sexist things Othrun says are things I have heard with my own ears. Those things have been angering, troubling, and hurtful. They have also been inspiring and motivating, and an opportunity for dialogue, and driving hope for change in the world.
So when you read any book in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, realize you’re not just reading a typical high fantasy book about queens, kings, princes, knights, mages, political intrigue, and battles. You can read it like that, and still enjoy it if you like. The book is yours, once you purchase it, and everyone’s interpretation and aspects that they enjoy will be subjective.
However, I would ask that you at least consider looking at my books as more than about my version of the Atlantis legend, cunning mages, or a flawed prince. There’s lots of deeper meaning there, for those who want to see it. So, I would request that, as the reader, you consider not just writing Othrun off as someone you can’t like, so therefore you can’t appreciate my book. I understand it may be hard to like a book if you don’t enjoy the flawed voice that narrates the book. The choice will always be yours, but I believe that if you give my series – and Othrun – a chance, in time, you may be pleased that you did. Othrun, and my books, I think, both have lots of redeeming qualities.
Were you a big fantasy fiction fan before you decided to write this book?
Fantasy fiction was my first love in terms of preferred genre, and I pretty well read exclusively fantasy and science fiction at this point in my life. I went through a stage where I read predominantly thriller and police procedural fare. But I always kept coming back to fantasy as my go-to read. Now, being a fantasy author myself, it thrills me to read the incredible work of my fellow creatives. There are so many fabulous fantasy authors out there, both self and traditionally published. My “to-be-read” list is way too long because of this!! So many amazing books to read.
Did you have a fascination with the legend of Atlantis?
I am utterly fascinated by the legend of Atlantis. Obviously, I am far from the only one. I have written about that in one of my blogs, on my website, here:
The original legend, created by Plato, has so many compelling elements. Former glorious empire, supreme military, and navy, that has become the metaphor for the ultimate Utopian society, eventually destroyed, sunk beneath the ocean, perhaps by its hubris, or the gods, or both? It’s a timeless story, and how many people might be out there, right now, believing Atlantis existed and trying to find out its location? Atlantis can become a bit of an obsession, and I completely understand it! I always loved reading books about Atlantis and planned one day to write one myself. Well, I’ve done it!
Are you someone who played or plays games involving fictitious worlds?
When I was far younger I played a little Dungeons and Dragons. I had a family early in life and with a busy career, there wasn’t much time for that sort of thing. Maybe I will take up gaming in retirement! I know it can be lots of fun, and completely immersive!
Can you tell us a little bit about your life before you became a writer? What did you do for a living?
I currently work in Federal Law Enforcement. I am honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to protect Canada and know that I am blessed, every day I put on the uniform. My colleagues are a group of extremely dedicated, selfless people. The job is so intriguing—something different every day. I love my job, but I am winding down that career, and my writing career is now beginning. I would love to retire early from law enforcement and be able to write full-time. I’m working on it!
How did you go about creating the world in which the story is set?
My world-building is kind of backwards compared to many other writers. I build the world from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in. That is to say, I created a main character first. Then, because my narrative is first-person, and all about Othrun, I built the world he inhabits, the history of that world, the other characters, outward from Othrun. Because that is how it works in real life. Everyone’s perception of reality is individualized. So we see, hear, smell, touch what Othrun touches. We perceive what history is, based on his knowledge. We see others, based on his assessments of them. It’s limited, but it also fits the story for the purposes of which I wrote it. Since, consistently, readers have told me they find my world-building really inventive and absorbing, I guess I must be doing something right!
What kind of research did you do?
To be honest with you, minimal research was required to write A Drowned Kingdom. Most of my research involved ancient warfare, which I already felt I had a fairly good grasp of from many years of reading about it, and my educational background, which included history, and medieval literature. That’s the beauty of writing fantasy! It’s all made up! I have so much respect and admiration especially for my fellow authors who write in genres like historical fiction. So much research, and an emphasis on accuracy. Kudos to them!
Did you storyboard the settings?
I didn’t storyboard the settings except in my head. Certain chapters play out like movie scenes in my brain, and I write those scenes down on paper, as soon as they come to me. I tend to write the most difficult part of the books first—things like the ending, or big battle sequences.
Then I write the easier, more fun (for me) chapters. Again, out of order, but I’ve spoken to some fellow authors and apparently, I’m not alone in doing things this way! Some others do the same!
Did you create maps of the world before you wrote the story?
I created my maps of the world concurrently as I wrote the story. As I noted when asked about creating the world in which the story is set, I created the world around Othrun, rather than the other way around.
I am certainly not a great artist, but the professional artist more enhanced my original maps, rather than change them too dramatically.
Did you write a series of characters and keep track of all their names and descriptions separately as you were writing?
Most of my characters had different names when I started writing A Drowned Kingdom. As I reflected on some of the names, sometimes there was that feeling that some of the names did not suit the characters. So I changed them accordingly.
I do have a system for creating names. I won’t get into it in detail, but suffice to say, i.e., the Atalanteans and Anibians have the posh-sounding, longer names, and the Acremians have the simpler names. After compiling all the names of the major and minor players, eventually, I came up with the list of names you see in the Appendix of the book. I have a much larger, more comprehensive appendix for my use, with all the characters that will appear in all seven books in the series.
I don’t have descriptions of them, because frankly, I have them all in my head. I know what they look like, how they talk, walk, what their tastes are, etc. That may sound daunting, but I have a crazy imagination and a fairly good memory for all that.
You wrote a wonderful fight scene in Chapter 18 between Othrun and Hor the Horrific. How did you prepare to create something both believable and exciting? I love the last sentence in the chapter: “Fools fall for tricks. Fools then fall.”
Thank you! A lot of readers seem to love that confrontation!
It’s weird, I never aspired or thought I would be praised for my battle scenes, but that seems to be consistent feedback from readers and reviewers. Everything I have read about fighting and ancient battle, and everything I have experienced in my law enforcement training, and my use of force encounters on the job, comes into play when I write battle scenes.
Fights are quick, brutal, messy. Seldom are the combatants able to sustain a fight for more than a minute, with all the exertion. A minute is an eternity in a fight. That would exhaust even the best-conditioned fighters, weighed down by armour and wielding heavy weapons. There are seldom many blows struck. Someone typically wins, and swiftly.
I have the fight scenes all mapped out in my head, and then I normally experiment a bit, live, where possible. For example, I enlisted my lovely wife for the fight scene between Hor and Othrun. I got to play “the good guy” (writer’s prerogative)! My wife played Hor (she certainly is NOT horrific, but she drew the short straw). We choreographed the fight moves as they would have happened, to ensure realism and accuracy.
As for that last sentence, it’s very insightful you picked up on that one. That’s very much Othrun’s game. He’s a bit of a daredevil, can be cocky, and likes to thinks he’s smarter than others. He enjoys the feeling of outsmarting other people. He sees himself as a bit of a trickster. He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does, but he is quite clever and skilled.
Can you speak to the themes of religion, religious intolerance, and religious persecution throughout the story?
I consider myself spiritual first and foremost, rather than formally religious. My beloved mother is very religious, highly devout, and I was raised Anglican. I feel more confident in my faith than ever before in my life. But it’s so much more about my relationship with God, rather than attending mass, for me. One of the things that I am particularly sensitive to, through that relationship with God, and all my life experiences, is the need for acceptance of others. I have never been more sure that all of us in humankind need to be far more embracing and respectful of people who practice different faiths—or non-faiths—from our own.
Organized religion has been such a force for morality, charity, and hope in the world, throughout the ages. Humankind may not have survived and evolved to this point in the absence of organized religion. Conjointly, because religion is the human-made construct around faith, it can be subject to human flaws. Brutality, subjugation, persecution, torture, war, and many more atrocities have all been done in the name of organized religion. Being a religious person does not necessarily mean one is a morally upright person, nor does it provide a license to disdain the beliefs of others.
One of the most terrible things, I believe, we as humans can do, is condemn non-religious people, or people of different religions. Therefore, I wanted to send a message about this in The Drowned Kingdom Saga. I wanted to highlight that we need to look carefully at how we think about the religions (or denominations/sects) of others. Othrun believes his religion is the only correct one, and that has given him, and historically his society, free rein to be contemptuous of other faiths. Othrun thinks that forced conversion of those not of his faith is the greater good. This attitude is typical of most colonial imperialists, throughout history, pick your empire. Atalantyx was certainly one of those empires. Such civilizations always believe they have the right answers, and everyone who doesn’t agree with them is wrong and needs to be set right.
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous attitudes that can be encountered in the world today. Does such an attitude bring us closer to Godliness? Are we so confident in what we believe in, that our beliefs must necessarily invalidate the beliefs of others? Are we “doing good” by trying to convert others to our religion? Those are some of the questions I pose in the novel.
What do you think Othrun’s greatest lesson is in Book 1?
Othrun’s greatest lesson in Book 1 is that the world he thought existed, based on his privileged upbringing and narrow-minded viewpoint, may be a fallacy. Othrun was raised to believe Atalantyx was essentially the centre of the known world, and that its culture, sophistication, religion, military, etc., were unmatched. He believed no one could be nobler, more intelligent, more powerful than the Atalanteans. His beliefs have been begun to be challenged in Book 1, by the people he meets in Acremia, and this will continue in Book 2, and throughout the series.
What will his greatest challenge involve in Book 2?
Othrun’s biggest challenge will be simply to survive in Book 2. He’s placed himself in grave danger. Those who’ve read Book 1, I’m sure, will agree. And since he’s the best hope for the Last of the Atalanteans to survive, he’s risking a lot when he risks his safety. It’s one of his more admirable traits, his courage, but so much is riding on Othrun for his people. If he fails, it might not be only his death, but the death of all he holds dear that may be the result.
Is there anything you want readers to know that I haven’t asked you?
I hope my readers can appreciate that my protagonist, Othrun, will undergo a journey where he’ll evolve, and change. He’s not always likeable. He’s a snob, a bigot, patriarchal, etc. Overall, he’s flawed. But even ordinary flawed people can change. We’re all redeemable. I want that message to shine through my work. More than that, I want people to understand that all the speculation, fascination—even angst and horror, about Othrun and his prejudiced ways is by design, and integral to the story. Through creating such a character, I wanted to stimulate discussion about things like racism, homophobia, violence against women, sexism, classism, privilege, religious intolerance. We see all this, by looking at someone like Othrun.
Other than the global pandemic, we are in the middle of one of perhaps the most turbulent times in terms of these issues we have ever faced. Movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter did not arise out of nowhere. We confront systemic issues in society that we are confounded on how to address, and continually shocked and appalled at the depths of these issues. The one thing I have noted as both participant and observer in these unprecedented times is that we still struggle to even discuss these issues with any level of candour or clarity. Books like mine can potentially help, in that regard.
We are challenged to admit just how many Othruns live among us, how pervasive some of these attitudes and behaviours are, and that these Othruns are sometimes people who are close to us and that we care about: friends or even family. At the least, they are people who live right alongside us in the world. Do we simply write such people off? How do we communicate effectively with them about these concerns, attempt to influence them to open up their thinking, perhaps inspire them to think differently? Those are questions posed by my books. I don’t claim to have all the answers, yet I think the discussion is important, relevant, and timely.
Readers have commented on Othrun’s ability to reason and potentially be very open-minded and accepting, as the novel progresses. He doesn’t always consistently exhibit those positive traits, and it’s never a complete about-face from his core beliefs. That in itself is realistic. People typically don’t just change overnight. To paraphrase what one reader said to me about Othrun, “I don’t like him, but I have potential to like him because he has potential to be better. He has to do better before I can like him.” But if there is a chance for someone like Othrun to change—even just a little bit—people in our modern era can change too.
Because, if we can’t move the needle on such change, we’ll still be plagued by the same problems in centuries to come. If Martin Luther King Jr., one of my icons, were alive today, I believe he would be troubled that, despite substantial progression made since his lifetime, many things have sadly stayed the same, about five decades later.
Where can readers find your book?
FriesenPress, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop.org, Chapters.Indigo, Amazon Kindle, Google Play, Nook, Apple Books, and Kobo, to name a few.
When do you plan to release Book 2?
The Last of the Atalanteans is scheduled for release in Spring 2022! All the books in The Drowned Kingdom Saga should be released approximately a year apart. With seven books planned in the saga, that will bring us to 2027 for the conclusion of the series!