Grand Crusade CoverThe Grand Crusade
Michael A. Stackpole
New York : Bantam Books, 2003
A review by
Colleen R. Cahill
September, 2004

High fantasy, when it is good, is more than cliches of quests and swords. It should have a familiarity, but not be predictable and have more than just battles, totally evil villains and powerful wizards. In the conclusion to his series “The DragonCrown War Cycle”, Michael A. Stackpole achieves this blend, making The Grand Crusade a complex, interesting and original book.

At the end of the last book, When Dragons Rage, the not-totally heroic Will Norrington has fallen into a lava lake. His end is not only a tragedy for his friends, but also a disaster for the Norrington prophecy. Many saw Will as the one who would bring down the tyrant Chytrine and end her threat to all living things. Now they fear that nothing will stop Chytrine from gaining all the pieces of the DragonCrown. Once she has the crown, she can control the dragons and obtain complete power. Although the alliance of kingdoms fighting her is now shaky and the armies are in retreat, a group of Will’s friends press on against the northern invading forces.

This might seem like old plots, but Stackpole has added elements to make the story his own. One thread follows Chytrine’s adopted daughter, Isaura, who loves her mother but is beginning to question the methods and motives of southern conquest. Like many of the characters in this series, Isaura is complex: although trusting, she also is bright enough to see that reality does not support what her mother is telling her and her basically kind nature puts her at odds with cruelty of Chytrine, who is driven to win at all costs. Some characters are harder to sympathize with: King Scrainwood (what a good bad-guy name) has few redeeming traits, but he also has excuses; he witnessed his mother’s head being ripped off while he was young and that would be warping.

In this final volume, we finally learn what force is behind Chytrine and the ultimate goal of the war. Many of the puzzle pieces fall in place, while new mysteries are added. Stackpole has a deft hand with magic and adds elements of supernatural with a delicate sense, not just having things bang into the plot. He also uses a modern language flow, so there is no need to struggle with convoluted dialog. And like a true epic fantasy, there are plenty of battles, court intrigue and quests, with touches of romance for good measure.

One has to admire an author who can actually complete a trilogy in three books. You will need to read the earlier two titles, Fortress Draconis and When Dragons Rage to fully understand the story, but all three are still in print. If you are a Stackpole fan who has read the earlier works, be sure to pick this up; it delivers a wonderful ending. For those who are new to this author, try this trilogy. If you like Eddings, Jordan or Feist, you will enjoy Stackpole’s work.