Poblius Corylus and his friend Gaius Alphenus Varus have been instrumental in saving the Rome-like City of Carce from the minions of Fire, but they know their task isn't done. For on the heels of Carce's death by fire is the omen of an even more horrible death, this by the forces of Water. So as they sit back to enjoy a fete organized by Varus's father, Saxa, over his appointment to the Governorship of Lusitania, the play they are watching as part of his triumph turns into a vision of a City being destroyed by a Giant monster that comes out of the water to engulf the city, a monster better known as Typhon.
But the city that Typhon destroys isn't just Carce, it's also a city of glass towers and circular canals that greatly resemble the classical view of Atlantis. And while Corylus, Varus and Varus' mother-in-law Hedia, Saxa's second wife, see a monster, It's Alphena, Varus' sister whose interests include swordfighting and other traditionally masculine pursuits, instead sees a powerful man. But why was her vision so different from those of the others?
As Varus works with his friend Corylus to find out information on the new doom facing the city, Corylus' nurse, Anna, who also happens to be a powerful witch and married to a man he fought with on the German frontier, has a vision of an amulet that might allow Corylus to survive the coming conflict. But first, the amulet must be recovered from the Etruscan tomb in which it was buried.
And Hedia, who went into the Underworld in the last book to rescue Alphena, encountered her dead ex-husband there, and only just managed to escape, but also managed to rescue Alphena. Her actions were not without cost, for now she is being troubled by horrible dreams of her ex-husband being tortured in Tartarus, and of three glass men who are part of those torturing him, and who frighten her very, very much. She wakes from these dreams screaming loudly, and notices that there are three new friends and advisors of a senator named Tardus who somehow remind her of these glass men.
So when she is kidnapped from her chamber by these same three glass men, this time it is Alphena who must go to rescue her stepmother, who she has come to cherish and respect after the last book. But instead of winding up with her mother, she falls from the mount that Anna summons and is rescued from the void by the man that she saw in the vision in the theatre. He tells her his name is Uktena, and he is defending the village from attacks by an Atlantean named Procron. Procron was a Minoi, or ruling magician of Atlantis, but he replaced his own skull with one of crystal, giving himself greatly enhanced powers and making him functionally immortal. He's been cutting a swath through the other Minoi, and other magicians as well, and Uktena, because of his great powers, has been loosed by the magicians of this village to defend them and their people.
Meanwhile, Hedia has been kidnapped by the Minoi of Atlantis because she has visited the Underworld. They are convinced that she, too, is a magician, because no one but a magician could travel to the Underworld. But Hedia manages to escape the glass men for a short time, finding herself, naked and alone, in the jungle. But after encountering a man-headed monkey and some other very strange creatures, she is recaptured and taken to Atlantis by one of the Minoi. The other Minoi of Atlantis are angry to find out that she isn't a magician after all- which they can tell from her aura. Deeming her to be of no use, they imprison her beneath their city.
She is freed by the human-headed ape, formerly a Minoi, who was reshaped by Procon into his current form, and robbed of his ability to think and reason as a human, not to mention, speak as a human. But in saving Hedia, he brings her back to his former hold, where they are eventually forced to escape between the worlds and back to Carce. As Corylus fights against the forces of Atlantis in the skies with the help of a tree nymph whose tree-nut was long ago entombed in a piece of glass, and another creature who was buried beneath her tree, Varus must give in to his destiny as a magician and go face Procron on his own.
But can he survive the attack of Typhon, who was once Uktena, after defeating Procron and saving the world? Or will he have to rely on someone else to talk sense into the creature that became Typhon and to be able to go home again? And how will Corylus and Alphena ever find their way back to the city? And can they defend Carce from the forces of Atlantis who are ready to invade from the doomed future?
I had enjoyed "The Legions of Fire", and this book is the sequel in the books of the Elements. Carce will be attacked by the forces of the four elementa, and the attack by the forces of water was forecast at the last book. Despite that, this book does take a bit of time to get going. We get re-introduced to the characters who were important in the last book, but many of their relationships have changed in this one. Alphena hated Hedia in the first book, but now, she realizes that her step-mother would do anything to save her and loves and cherishes her, to the point of taking her advice gladly. Corylus and Varus are still friends, but their friendship has deepened, and Alphena still likes Corylus, but hasn't had much time to spend with him. And Hedia remains who she is, but we have a deeper understanding of her character, and she is closer to Alphena, and even Varus.
What I especially enjoyed this time around was Alphena's role in the story, and she gets something to do that makes her character more well-rounded. Besides getting kidnapped in the last book, she spent some time fighting, but she is using her experiences to change herself for the better- not treating her slaves like objects, and learning to keep her temper and to fight her battles. All the characters are changing, but for most of them, it is becoming more of who they really are, whereas I feel that Alphena is discovering not only who she is, but who and what she wants to really be, and it's interesting to see that character growth, since she was a very angry, shrill person in the last book. She still has a lot of anger, but she's learning to manage it better and not take it out on the people around her, which makes her a less disagreeable character. I actually managed to like her this time around.
This book took off faster than "The Legions of Fire", though the build-up seems like it is going to be more gradual because of the way it begins. Clues are becoming clear that Varus is going to be a very powerful mage, and Alphena is one also, which leads me to wonder if it was their mother who they inherited their power from, since neither Saxa nor Hedia has that type of power... and was Saxa's first wife something like Corylus's mother? Something or someone not entirely human? Or did her power that she passed on to her children come from her family heritage? Something I'd be very interested in finding out. In any case, if you are looking for an excellent fantasy book, this series is well able to provide them. Highly recommended, both the book and series both.