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A good step-up from the first in the series

The Dead Gods: Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow 2 - Rob Bayliss
I read The Sun Shard - the first in this series - back in November, and purchased the second volume as soon as I spotted it for sale. The Dead Gods is a self-contained work, and enough of the back story is given that it makes sense on its own, but clearly it will appeal more to those who have read #1.

The Sun Shard introduced us to one facet of the world, focusing on the conflict around a particular region. The Dead Gods now expands our horizons to the wider context. We learn more - a lot more - about the major national players who had fuelled that battle, and the particular agendas which drive them. We also find out about some of the lesser factions, and their hope to leverage the confusion of war to their own benefit.

The book tells its story through multiple different perspectives, but manages not to get lost in confusion as it does so. This device reinforces the sense of a patchwork world, divided by cataclysm where it could potentially be united.

In the first book, the focus was predominantly on physical weapons, and the skill and dexterity with which they are wielded. Magical tools were present as a background element in the fight - nice if you could get them, but not a disaster if you couldn't. Now, they have become essential. The two ways of waging war need each other's support. The basis for supernatural power is being slowly revealed in hints and clues, and there is an inescapable conclusion that it is all highly dubious, whether wielded by what we think of as the bad guys or the good.

I was particularly pleased that we learn more about the Flint Folk and their culture. Like everybody, they have internal divisions and feuds, but they have definitely emerged as the most likeable of the factions. They represent the persistence of something which has been lost in our world - a hominid species close enough to us for easy communication, but different enough to provide perspective and challenge.

This volume has successfully addressed the technical proof-reading problems which affected the first. Also, women are given a more central position in the flow of events. The various cultures cannot be described as equal-opportunity, and a woman's chief access to power is still through her sexuality. However, female voices and influence are starting to be heard at the higher levels of society.

The story is clearly in full stride now, with the various key figures moving into place towards a showdown. The Dead Gods is a worthy successor to The Sun Shard, and I will certainly be looking out for the third part as and when it appears - hopefully next year.