The second volume of this trilogy shows very impressive improvement upon the first, to such a degree I'm willing to risk saying that this could end up being one of the '90's finest fantasy sagas when all is said and done. Unlike many of the genre's bestselling names (and you'll read about 'em right here on this cheery old website, kids), who trudge over familiar territory with all the thrilling spontaneity of a box turtle race, Coe in his second outing elevates his series high above the realm of formula and maintains a degree of storytelling excellence and freshness alien to much of fantasy today.
Considering the caliber of authors it has elevated to prominence, the entire fantasy genre, if it had any integrity at all, ought to be giving Dave Coe a chorus of "we're not worthys." As it seems he has already taken home at least one award so far, it would appear that process is underway.
Four years have passed since the attacks upon the peaceful and bucolic land of Tobyn-Ser by a band of "outlanders" from the neighboring land of Lon-Ser. They had come disguised as members of the Children of Amarid in an effort to discredit and weaken that order of mages who had for so long protected Tobyn-Ser. And though the invaders had been defeated, the damage to the mages' standing had been done. What's more, the order's inaction in the ensuing four years, as well as Owl-Sage Baden's insistence upon keeping the one outlander prisoner alive for interrogation instead of turning him over to the mob, is further proof in the eyes of the people that the order is no longer fit to protect and serve Tobyn-Ser.
While a dangerous rift between rival factions in the Order threatens to topple the whole thing, an impetuous young mage named Orris (who played a smaller but still significant role in volume one) takes matters into his own hands, freeing the outlander prisoner under false pretenses and leading the man, on his own, back to Lon-Ser. Orris's plan, so far as he has one, is to confront the leaders of this strange and unknown land and attempt as best he can to broker some sort of peace agreement. Orris is utterly unprepared for what he finds once he crosses over into Lon-Ser proper: a bleak, industrial world covered in massive, polluted cities (Nals), ruled by a brutual hierarchy of thuggish governers who seem little better than gang leaders even at the highest level.
While amazed by Lon-Ser's technological marvels (its cars, aircraft, and the massive indoor farming complex), Orris realizes he is way over his head when confronted by the ruthlessness of its populace. Yet this doesn't dissuade him from confronting Cedrych, the ambitious Nal-Lord who originally planned the attack on Tobyn-Ser four years before — and in this Orris has some unexpected allies. Melyor is a young woman as deadly as she is beautiful, hand-picked by Cedrych to lead the second attack upon Tobyn-Ser. Yet when she meets Orris, events are set in motion to make her question her motives, loyalties, and finally her destiny. Also coming to Orris's aid is Gwilym, a "Bearer" who turns out to be the distant descendant of some mages who fled Tobyn-Ser generations before.
Some authors have mixed fantasy and SF elements in the past, sure. But Coe perhaps does the most convincing job of it I've seen in ages. One might complain that the Nals seem a bit too obviously Blade Runner-inspired, but I think that would be unfair. It's in using familiar story elements in a fresh and exciting way that Coe succeeds best. Coe also smoothes over many of the rough edges that hampered Children of Amarid. This story is much tighter, with great forward momentum. And best of all, Coe comes up aces in both plot and character. All of the principals in this exciting tale are memorable and engaging people. Orris's growing relationships with both Melyor and Gwilym are absorbing and even moving, and in Cedrych, Coe has a simply magnificent villian. With an splendid story like The Outlanders under his belt, David B. Coe has proven himself an author as worthy of reader support, if not more, as the Brookses and Jordans of the world.