The Serpent by David Drake is the third novel in Drake’s “Time of Heroes” series. It presents Pal’s adventures in this possible future. It follows The Spark which introduced Pal and The Storm, which showed Pal maturing into his current role.
The Fall shattered the world into oases habitable to people and a vast waste inhabited by monstrous creatures. The oases are linked by the Road, a path that can be traveled safely – unless monsters from the Waste enter and attack its travelers. Vast wealth, in the form of ancient artifacts, litters the Waste, for those brave enough to enter.
Champions are fighters. Makers are those with the talent to take artifacts made from surviving ancient technology and transform them into tools useful here and now. Pal is a combination of both–not the best at either, but very good at both, and the best among those with skills at both.
Pal’s unique combination of skills has Jon sending Pal on difficult missions, requiring resolution and judgment for success. Yet Pal remains true to his roots. He comes from an obscure and backwoods farming community. While he now walks with the nobility, he is happiest adventuring on the road, fixing problems for Jon and, most of all, for the common folk of Jon’s realm.
Like much of Drake’s writing, The Serpent borrows heavily from ancient and medieval history and literature. This series is primarily based on Arthurian legend, taking plot points from Chretien de Troyes and the Prose Lancelot and setting them in a science fiction background. The result is science fiction flavored by medieval romance. These books have a fantasy feel to them.
Pal travels the Road as a pathfinder and explorer, seeking geographic knowledge about the lands surrounding Jon’s realm. Along the way, he rights wrongs, assists damsels in distress, and fights the monsters of The Waste. The Serpent offers readers an entertaining story, one which will delight fans of Drake’s writing, while offering a good introduction to Drake for those unfamiliar with him.
“The Serpent” by David Drake, Baen, 2021, 192 pages, $25.00 (hardcover) $9.99 (e-book)
*Mark Lardas is an engineer, freelance writer, historian and model-maker living in Texas. Mark posts on Ricochet as “Seawriter,” and is well-known for his regular and much appreciated reviews of books on all subjects. Of his reviews, he says “I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review.” His website is marklardas.com.