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Cruising on Auto-Pilot; a Walkthrough
Mistress of the Catacombs
David Drake
When i read the previous volume in the "Isles" series (Servant of the Dragon, q.v.), i greatly enjoyed it, but something about it bothered me.

Now, having read this volume, and considering the matter, i have finally put my finger on it, i think -- these books read like using a "walkthru" cheatsheet to go through one of the old InfoCom computer text games -- "Zork", possibly, or the brilliant InfoCom version of "Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Which is to say that each character goes through a series of adventures which contain numerous decision-points and always choose the right way to go when they have a choice; secondary characters, though interesting and sympathetic (or not), are introduced, hang around until they fulfill their sole programmed function, and then exit, usually fatally.

What suspense there is comes primarily from narrative technique; rotating among four story threads that SEEM divergent but will come together by the end, cutting away from a given thread -- just as it looks as if Things Might Be Bad For Our Hero(ine) -- to resolve the cliffhanger left in another thread in the last chapter.

That said, it's really the characters i read these for -- Garric (and his ancestor, King Carus, who shares his head) and Cashel, Ilna and Sharina and so on, all of whom are interesting in their own right, and eminently suited for the sorts of challenges that Drake's plots throw at them.

Mechanical as the storyline might be, i enjoyed the ride, and i intend to be there for the next volume, also.

I mean, a roller coaster is locked to a track, mechanical and predictable and repetitious -- but we still ride the same coasters over and over and get the same thrills. Same for Drake and this series.