Here be Dragons

Archive for March, 2013

Dark Fantasy Review: The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

Synopsis:

It is really a complex book, as hard to summarize as e.g. the ASOIAF saga of George R.R.Martin or Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It is segmented into different parts, almost each of them following a different character and often set in a different country – overall not an easy, casual read.

Drusas Achamian is a Mandate sorcerer, plagued by terrible and bloody nightmares. It is the Mandate school’s mission to fight against the mysterious Consult, an organization whose existence has not been seen in decades and which is evil. Achamian is commanded to uncover information about the plans of Maithanet, the Shriah of The Thousand Temples which is like the major religion of the region. Maithanet has recently declared the formation of a Holy War, a war that will take back the holy land of Shimeh and its aim will be to liberate their most sacret place, situated there. What Achamian discovers is a mystery that might potentially stain this newly-declared Holy War. His beloved, a whore from Sumna called Esmenet, gets involved into his spying activities and so she is propelled forward, right into the very middle of gathering armies and into the arms of another man, a knight and a high commander called Sarcellus. Will their love be strong enough to survive it?

Cnaiur is a Scylvendi barbarian, a survivor of the tremendous military defeat of his people at the hands of the martial prodigy, Ikurei Conphas. Soon, he meets Anasûrimbor Kellhus ,a 33 year-old Dûnyain monk and the son of Anasurimbor Moenghus. Moenghus was a man who, in the past, lead Cnaiur to revolting actions aimed at his father that still torture his soul. Kellhus recruits or rather mentally manipulates Cnaiur to be his guide through the lands of Earwa; they make their way to Momemn to join the forces gathering for the Holy War, both with the agenda of finding Anasurimbor Moenghus.

What I liked:

Firstly it is a massively epic fantasy novel based strongly on the Crusades and rooted in modern, philosophical discourse full of moral relativity. My inner geek loved every single historical and philosophical reference I could find and believe me, there were plenty of them, perhaps even too many. I suppose even if you dilluted this book you would get something highly original and memorable although not exactly nice.

The world is so originally constructed and richly drawn that, let me repeat it once again, would fill several separate novels without any problem. What’s more the narration was executed flawlessly – the style of writing, especially compared to many other fantasy positions, was on a high level. It was such a relief to read a story written by somebody who actually can tell a story beautifully even if the events constituting that story are rather ugly.

The main characters are complex and three-dimensional and conflicted to say the least of it. No, they are not easy to relate to or to like, you would hardly wish to befriend any of them but they are interesting to read about. You would be hard-pressed to find many redeeming qualities in Achamian, a man who condemns his beloved pupil, Inrau, and leaves behind a woman he loves although he knows she might face a destitute life or even starvation. Esmenet cheats on Achamian time and again knowing fully well that he suffers and suffering with him but she simply cannot break the ‘whore’ mould. And, of course she must eat. Kellhus, a lonely monk with a mission is a Christ-like figure (of course appropriately skewed to fit in) but he murders and manipulates people around him like his dear daddy, never sparing a thought for those he doesn’t need. He might be a great warrior with superhuman skills but he wouldn’t recognize an act of altruism even if it bit his bottom. A bunch of sweeties, aren’t they?

What I didn’t like:

I don’t have any problems with my memory but I admit I sometimes got lost among all those strange men, exotic names and places. Practically in every chapter you meet not one or two but several dozen new characters which might stop existing afer several pages or might reappear after a while. I do appreciate a creative, detailed world building but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing as well and I suppose this book was such a case, at least for me. After some time I didn’t even try to remember all those people apart from the ones who, like Achamian or Esmenet, appeared often enough to become more or less memorable.

You deal here with a multiple POV narration and I am not exactly a fan of such a solution either. When the perspective jumps between several characters constantly I become frustrated. It is not completely bad when you deal with just two-three narrators but when their number is increased to 5-6 characters or more I get a headache and my reading progress slows down significantly.

Finally let me tell you that I can’t get over how the book portrays women. There are two more or less important females in the main cast, one is a slave and a concubine called Serwe, the other, Esmenet, is a call girl. I found them both rather cynical and selfish. While Esmi could be clever, sympathetic and a bit more human from time to time, Serwe is a weak, blithering idiot. Just two women and several big armies of men – not a nice conclusion from my point of view. I know that it is in perfect accordance with the history of that era (11th century and later) but hey, fantasy is an area where you can change things, right?

Final verdict:

I never felt comfortable about this book which is a compliment of a kind. It’s interesting, layered, and populated with bastards who murder other bastards, maybe better and maybe worse than themselves. It is a fantasy world with enough differences from the norm that I felt like I was discovering something new.Still if you ever get in the mood for an intelligent fantasy read with a philosophical bent this one will suit perfectly.

Fantasy Review: ‘Throne of Jade’ by Naomi Novik

Nathan’s Review:

Am I expecting too much from this series?  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of the first book.  Dragons in the Napoleonic wars just makes so much since.  How did this not happen in real life?  It certainly should have.  The series seems well researched and has the vibe of being intelligent historical fantasy, and yet…  And yet I can’t help but feel this has been a bit shallower than I expected, or at least hoped for.

Again the story follows Temeraire and Captain Laurence, this time as they travel to China.  The Emperor has learned that a mere soldier is riding around on a Dragon meant for royal hands only, and China wants their dragon back.  Going by sea, because going by air would have just been silly, once again half the book meanders along before getting to the main plot (lots of sea travel).  Once in China Temeraire learns how other dragons live, Laurence deals with politics and diplomacy, and the whole story is wrapped up with the most simplistic solution in a dragon book possible (outside of a dragon just eating everyone).

I am teased with a deeper book, but the author pulls back.   Temeraire sees a slave revolt, then starts looking at his own station in life and making comparisons.  Are we going to look a little deeper into the intelligence of dragons and what it means to use them as war engines?  No, Temeraire is placated with unspecific promises and lets it sit in the back ground.  Later on in China we see a poor dragon that barely earns enough to live.  Perhaps a look at the price of freedom for Temeraire to think about?  Not really, never thought about again.  We also contemplate the lack of speech and its correlation with intelligence after a sea dragon’s attack.  Net result?  A brooding dragon for a short time, then also forgotten.

Oh yes the ending.  Did I mention it was simple?  Incredibly simple.  The solution to the whole book’s issue came down to “let’s try this, think it will work?, don’t see why not.”  And yes, it worked.  So they traveled all over the world for a solution that came up in idle conversation.

Ok stop, enough negative.  The book was not that bad, I jumped right into the next one to finish of the omnibus.  Novik writes very exciting action when she gets to it.  Battles are easy to follow with strong visuals; they don’t drag on nor last even a page too long.  The battle with the sea serpent was good, a siege later on in the book was even better.  There were some interactions between people of different cultures that I also found interesting.  Some of the crew had no problem interacting with the strange to them Chinese culture, while others were more reluctant.

Certainly not a bad book and maybe it is even a very good book.  It very well may be that my expectations were set for a different book than the author had in mind.

3 Stars

Pauline’s Review:

This is the second book in the alternate history series about Temeraire, the dragon captured as an egg from the French and inadvertently hatched at sea and induced into captivity by the ship’s captain, Will Laurence. Where the first book focused on Temeraire’s growth and training as a part of the Aerial Corps, engaged in fighting the French during the Napoleonic wars, this book is about his personal history. For it turns out that Temeraire is a rare Chinese Celestial dragon, the egg was sent as a gift to Napoleon, and the Chinese are not happy about him being deployed in the war, ridden by a mere naval officer, and want him back. Relations with the Chinese are delicate, so Temeraire and Laurence are packed off to Peking to negotiate some kind of deal.

This book has the same characteristics as the first, being more about the formality of language and manners than action. There are some quite dramatic encounters, but these episodes are brief. The highlight for me is, as before, Temeraire himself, who is by far the most interesting character in the book. He has a refreshingly straightforward attitude to life, and time after time Laurence is forced to attempt to justify his own society’s customs and morals against Temeraire’s much more liberal ideas. These discussions are fascinating – Laurence is a product of his own era of history, and there are many ideas which he accepts without thinking, and others where he has absorbed his family’s somewhat different ideas (he is against slavery, for instance, even though it is still legal in Britain). For instance, it is fascinating to juxtapose Temeraire’s instinctive feeling that it is wrong to flog or hang a man, with the obvious need to maintain discipline aboard ship. The Chinese have very different ways of treating dragons, too, and Laurence is forced to acknowledge, against his natural feeling, that they do some things better than the west.

I have no idea how accurate the depiction of Chinese life of the era is, or whether the author has taken liberties, but it all seemed very plausible to me. There were some fascinating details, for instance the ceremony on board ship when crossing the equator, which the author mentions in passing without going into much detail. Both the Chinese delegation and Temeraire himself are mystified by the whole thing, but the author resists the temptation to info-dump all her research on the subject, writing as if we were of the period and would naturally know all about it. I rather like this minimalist approach, which suits the book very well, giving it almost an authentic air of having been written in 1806.

This is actually a thought-provoking book in many ways, addressing a number of ideas head on, such as slavery versus voluntary service, and others less directly, such as the absolute will of an emperor versus the democratic monarchy system prevailing in Britain. It’s not a high-action book, although there are episodes of drama, but in some cases they feel rather bolted on as an afterthought to ramp up the tension. However, the tension between the British and the Chinese is nicely done, and the slow but definite way in which the barriers begin to dissolve and the two sides inch their way towards an understanding is beautifully described. In the end, everything hinges on trust, or the lack of it, and the resolution is both frighteningly dramatic and ultimately very satisfying. Once again, I enjoyed this book unreservedly, and although it wouldn’t suit everyone, for me it’s another five star affair. I’m almost nervous to read any further in the series in case this high standard comes crashing down. Can any author sustain the ideas and this level of writing for nine books? It’s hard to imagine.[First posted on Goodreads September 2012]

Books in the Series
His Majesty’s Dragon
Throne of Jade
Black Powder War

Fantasy Review: ‘The Lost Cactus’ by David S Jamieson

Not the world’s most original premise – Daniel Howard discovers that by some quirk of fate, he’s the last great hope for mankind and must undertake a dangerous quest… and so on and so forth. But then the plot isn’t really the point. There are masses of ideas in here, all jostling for position, strugging to get themselves noticed in the crowd. Every page is filled with amusingly quirky talking animals or scenery, squirrels rushing about with post-it notes and the like, or corridors full of vine-covered forest, or tables made of ice, while our hero stands around gawking and doing the what-the-*&^%’s-going-on role. And there are some laugh-out-loud moments, it’s true. But comedy is difficult to do well, and a character who ends every third sentence with ‘Oh crap!’ gets tedious pretty fast. I think there’s a good story in here, but the author is trying too hard to be clever and amusing. For anyone looking for a light-hearted and irreverent piece of fantasy with the world’s most unlikely hero, this might be just the job, but for me it just doesn’t work. One star for a DNF. [But I did like the talking lift!]

Fantasy Review: ‘Ashes in the Fall’ by Christopher Martinez

The premise here is that Carleon, a former imperial soldier, has turned rebel for some reason (explained later in the book), and is training up a motley collection of disaffected soldiers, criminals and peasants to fight. Amongst the latter is Danario, whose village was razed to the ground by the imperial army for helping the rebels. I have problems with this right from the start. Firstly, the main character is not merely rebellious, but, given that his objective is to overthrow the rightful government, he’s treasonous, too. Plus he uses torture to extract information. Normally this would make him a villain. His wife was killed by the imperialists, but that seems to be after his rebellion, so it’s not really motivation. And frankly, he seems fairly stupid, constantly walking into difficult situations and then being surprised when people get killed, or the mission fails. Taking on a large, well-trained, well-funded army needs (surprise!) another army, at least as large. Danario, on the other hand, is more believable. He no longer has a home or family, so joining the rebel cause seems like a reasonable step. His meeting with the princess seems incredibly unlikely to me, but there you go, this is fantasy, incredible things happen.

The writing is quirky. Hair colour is ‘argent’ or ‘sterling’, port is ‘velvet-colored’, a pine marten is ‘cinnamon-furred’, eyes are ‘amaranthine’. Each time I encounter something like this, I have to stop and work out what it means. And velvet coloured port? Velvet might be port coloured, but the opposite makes little sense. Every chapter is a separate episode, disconnected from the ones before and after. Even when a chapter ends on a dramatic cliff-hanger, turning the page means a big jump and the outcome explained in flashback. This makes the book feel very disjointed. Invented words are used without explanation (or else I missed it). I never quite got the meaning of ‘namhai’, for instance, and ‘akhai’ seemed to have two different meanings, which was confusing. And what exactly is a ‘derthai’? A really solid edit would help to smooth away the oddities.

Having said all that, it’s still a very readable book, if short, and I kept turning the pages to find out what happens. And then I came to the ending. Oh. My. God. Courageous is the word that springs to mind. And also realistic, because this really is what happens to rebellions. Kudos to the author for having the guts to follow through with his ideas to the bitter end and not fudge the bleakness of it. But still – I’d advise having a supply of strong liquor to hand when reading it. There’s a good story in here, but the short format and writing quirks tend to obscure it until the last few chapters. At that point, though, it becomes a thought-provoking if depressing read. Recommended for anyone who thought George R R Martin’s writing was way too upbeat and cheerful. Three stars.

YA Fantasy Review: ‘Dirty Blood’ (Dirty Blood 01) by Heather Hildenbrandt

EN GARDE!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

I killed a girl last night. I did it with my bare hands and an old piece of pipe I found lying next to the dumpster. But that’s not the part that got me. The part that scared me, the part I can’t seem to wrap my head around and still has me reeling, was that when she charged me, her body shifted – and then she was a wolf. All snapping teeth and extended claws. But by the time I stood over her lifeless body, she was a girl again. That’s about the time I went into shock… And that was the moment he showed up.

Now, all I can do is accept the truths that are staring me in the face. One, Werewolves do exist. And Two, I was born to kill them.

My impressions:

ENGAGEMENT
If you read the synopsis then you will know…nothing, literally nothing about this novel. What’s more, you might be tricked into thinking it is a nice YA Urban Fantasy with werewolves. It is NOT. Before I reveal the whole ugly truth about this one let me put on my protective suit and I warn you: things will become dangerous from that point. If you are queasy, just avert your eyes and leave. Yes, there will be BLOOD.

Now, protected by many charms, garlic and silver, with my faithful sword, cape and a hat, I can proceed.

FIRST SLASH:
It is not a book about werewolves. It is a book about vampires masquerading as werewolves.Have you ever heard about a series featuring sparkling, vain, teenage, bloodsuckers, one of them called Edward Cullen? Yes, we are hunting that rainbow-coloured git again. Prepare yourself for a ferocious fight. He is the cunning one but I’ve dealt with him in the past so I know my enemy. Just follow my steps and you’ll be safe.

SERIOUS FENCING TRICKS
I got the inkling we might deal with him again when I read his description: brown hair, artlessly mussed up, brown eyes with golden sparks, muscled body, but one can never be sure in my profession, right? So I waited and then, after a very short time, I struck gold. He was stalking a girl, yes, once again, and her name was Tara. He went into her house several times completely unannounced – sometimes through the door, sometimes through the window. He never bothered to knock. He was a controlling ass…thingy. I was almost sure I got the sparkling idiot again but I had to be 100% certain. And yessssssss…finally the last proof. He could read minds and manipulate memories. It’s him.

DIRTY FEINTS
So what that he claimed his name was Wes and he was a kind of werewolf this time? My word against his, right? He told that Tara girl (the main protagonist) his mind-reading abilities were on full display only during full moon but he was able to read her mind and influence it without any problems, right? I know Edward Cullen when I see him and let me repeat it once again: it WAS him. He drove a silver Aston Martin for heavens’ sake! Do you still need any other argument? YOU DO? Verry well. Right after their second or third meeting Tara asks “How old are you?” and Wes replies “Nineteen”. Tara then says “How long have you been nineteen?” Weirdly it sounds exactly like one of those Bella and Cullen sweet dialogues, don’t you think? Plus these other crappy promises: he is “protecting your virtue” honey, protecting all the time and referring to neutral ground as “switzerland”. If you need more you simply don’t qualify for this job.

COUP DE GRâCE
Having dispatched the ugly Cullen let me take care of the rest. The characters, ALL the characters were cardboard flat copies of different Twilight vampires (and let me say that those weren’t exceptionally well-rounded to begin with). Apart from that the author seemed to be rather at loss how to make this novel logic and distinguishable. The main heroine is repeatedly lied to by: her mom, her grandma, her boyfriend, her would-be boyfriend Wes. They do it to protect her, a born Hunter, against other, ‘bad’ werewolves. Yes, instead letting her train as she was supposed to they endanger her life because it’s their idea of ‘protection’. Well, last time I looked knowledge was power, not ignorance and stupidity…

At the very beginning Tara kills a werewolf girl called Lilian. Yes, the girl attacked her for no reason and yes, Tara was just defending herself but she kills her nevertheless. What’s her reaction and what other weres think ? First Wes/Cullen observes Tara as if she was a scientific experiment that backfired; Lilian’s body is just something that he must get rid of. Then he makes Tara forget the whole incident for ‘her own good’ of course, and then we are told that it was practically ok. Although Lilian was one of those ‘good’, bunnies-hugging werewolves who want world peace and social benefits for everyone, her killing wasn’t Tara’s fault because she simply couldn’t help herself. Lilian… *emphatic shrug* well…Lilian was a blonde and a traitor anyway. Or almost a traitor because nobody had any tangible proof of it at the time of her death. Well, she died so something must have been wrong with her, right? Apart from that only a baddie, Leo, mourns her, no big deal… Remember, Cullen doesn’t do blondes, one more, one less, just a cannon fodder…

The last remark. I almost died of evil laughter when Wes announced to Tara that she was his destiny. DESTINY!!! That’s what entitled him to enter her room unannounced whenever he wanted to, that’s why he was drawn to her from the very ugly beginning, even though she killed a girl in cold blood right before his eyes. She was his destiny, it explains everything. For that sentence alone Cullen deserves a slow, painful death by sunrays, werewolf or not. If you’ve heard a sillier excuse to stalk anybody do let me know. I might write a book about them one day. You see, even vampire killers retire.

BURYING THE BODY or Final verdict:

It’s time to go – I have things to do and vampires to kill. Just let me say this: the less I read such novels the more happy I am. You have been warned. One star.


Fantasy Review: ‘His Majesty’s Dragon’ by Naomi Novik

Nathan’s Review:

Oh friggen sweet.  Ok, so here’s how it is.  This stuffy British sea captain wipes the deck with a frenchie ship (ha, wipes the deck).  When they take control of the ship it has this giant egg on it, because it turns out there are dragons.  This egg is about to hatch so he makes his crew draw straws on who is going to be its best bud because these crazy people don’t want their very own dragon and it is a punishment or something.  But when the egg hatchets and the loser kid tries to talk with him the dragon is like, oh hell no I ain’t running with no lackey, where is the big dog on this boat?  He finds the captain and talks to him in perfect English saying, you and me man.

So Captain Laurence has this dragon, and doesn’t know what to name him, so he calls him Temeraire after some lame ship or something.  And the dragon is really smart, but because they are new they have to go off and train on how to be a useful in a fight.  Which is awesome, because I totally read all the Pern books and those dragons NEVER fought, they just flew around people and shot falling strings out of the sky.  But in this book Europe is at some war between the English and the French, and they totally load the dragons up with gunmen and bombs and attack ships and other dragons with them.
So here I am, all psyched out because Laurence keeps telling Temeraire about all these dragon battles, but the first two thirds of the book are about training.  Laurence is a Navy man, and he knows he is so much better than the hippies in the air corp, so he spends his time showing them how to be more duty bound and clean cut and the right way to do things.  It is okay though, he doesn’t always know what’s right, and sometimes other people have to call him out on it.  Like when he is shocked to see girls with dragons too.  Sure there wasn’t much fighting, but I guess I can reluctantly admit I was interested never less, because I am kinda a softy and Laurence and Temeraire are getting tight together.

Then bam, they get a mission.  And this Napoleon dude is craftier than people think, and he totally tricks everyone and now it’s up to the dragons to save the day, including Temeraire even though he isn’t trained all the way. And it is exciting, and I can feel the tension and hear the rifles and everything else I want in a battle.  There are different kinds of dragons doing different things, and Laurence thinks of them as ships and so he comes up with strategies no else thought of.  It was awesome.

I got bummed a little though, because Laurance was such a stuffy pants he was boring sometimes.  And it was weird how he was such a bad judge of character and so hoity toity but people still thought he was cool, even the people who didn’t like him change their mind.  And as cool as it was, sometimes my brain hurt when I tried to figure out stuff like how they could hold normal conversations while flying through the air and how people could hold so steady when riding a giant flapping animal and how many cows does a dragon have to eat a day and where do they all come from?

4 stars
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Pauline’s Review:

This has a very simple premise: imagine the Napoleonic wars, but with dragons. It sounds mad, but actually it works astonishingly well. The author manages to capture the ethos of the times perfectly – the class system, the rigid formality of manners, the somewhat florid language – while still creating a fascinating work of fantasy.

The starting point is the acquisition of a dragon egg from a captured French frigate, which inconveniently decides to hatch while the British ship is still returning to port. Not wanting to allow such a prize to go to waste, the crew, or rather the officers (that’s the class system at work again), decide to see if the dragon will accept a harness. As it happens, it is the Captain, Will Laurence, who manages it and has to leave the Navy and join the dragon corps as a result. His regrets about this, which he regards as being cast out from good society, and how he comes to terms with his situation, form a good part of the book. It is interesting that he is now regarded as a pariah both by his own sector of society, including his family, and also by the Aerial Corps personnel, who see him as coming from outside their close-knit and unorthodox culture, completely untrained, and resent him walking off with a prize dragon when they have (in their own eyes) far more suitable and highly trained people.

There is a certain amount of action, since the dragons are all trained for aerial combat as part of the war effort against the French, but the focus is very much on the characters – both the humans who live with the dragons, and of course the dragons themselves, who are very much characters in their own right. Laurence’s dragon, the Temeraire of the title, is in fact by far the most interesting character here, being highly intelligent and curious and somewhat radical in his politics, which puts Laurence rather on the defensive, forced to justify the customs he himself takes for granted. Laurence spends quite a lot of his free time reading to Temeraire, including scientific works which Laurence himself doesn’t pretend to understand, but the dragon does. It must be a bit like having a very precocious child, I suppose. The relationship is a close one, and there are some wonderful moments between man and dragon. To be honest, Laurence himself struck me as a difficult person to like in many ways, since he has very rigid ideas of propriety – a very prickly man – but his affection for Temeraire is charming.

The dragons are quite carefully thought out. There are various wild species which have been bred and cross-bred for aerial combat purposes for centuries, and different nationalities have bred their own varieties with different characteristics. Only some can breathe fire, for instance, and none of the British ones can, but they have a variety which can spit acid, for instance. Unlike the Pern variety, these dragons aren’t telepathic and they talk quite normally, but there is a very strong bond between dragon and handler, even if the handler mistreats his dragon (I found poor Levitas very distressing to read about). Nice, too, that there are female dragon handlers, although true to the times, this is by the choice of the dragons, not a blow for feminism. Laurence was quite shocked by the idea (but then Laurence is easily shocked, it has to be said). I also liked the idea that, since dragon handlers have much shorter lifespans than dragons, handlers try to arrange for a son (or daughter) to take over when they die, and there is a certain amount of pragmatic breeding of humans for the purpose – the author has obviously put a lot of thought into details like this.

The plot develops quite nicely, although it really isn’t particularly important. The objective is to describe the society of two hundred years ago as it would have been if there were dragons in the world then, and this the author does brilliantly. One could argue that access to dragons over many previous centuries would have changed history far more than is evident here – would there even be a Napoleon and a Nelson, for instance? But that hardly matters.

The writing style is perfectly in keeping with the period, and so is the behaviour of the characters. It might seem a bit slow, and not everyone would enjoy the formal language used, but I loved it. I liked the whole idea of the Aerial Corps, with its slightly informal air, and the way the larger dragons go into battle loaded with gunners and bombers and whole teams of crew, rather like a ship of the air. This makes the battles quite unusual, with attempts to board enemy dragons and hand to hand combat (with swords and pistols!) while strapped on to a dragon conducting his or her own form of combat. This is one of those rare books where I actually didn’t want it to end. Luckily there are nine books in the series to date, so those who want can indulge their enjoyment of Temeraire for quite some time. Five stars. [First posted Spetember 2012 to Goodreads]
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Anachronist’s Review:

What I liked:

I loved the dragons, I really loved them or rather the great imagination of Ms Novik which supplied them with colourful hides, intelligence and power of speech. Temeraire is my most favourite dragon in fantasy fiction, I am not joking! He is sweet, loyal, he knows French, Latin and English, he loves mathematics, jewelry and reading! He can’t read on his own but his faithful handler and friend, Lawrence is always happy to oblige!My other source of joy: some dragons tolerate only women handlers! Yes, just imagine it: a lady straight from the salon of Jane Austen riding a dragon, EVEN being made an officer in the army! It was a dare but it paid off – the notion was great in practice but I do regret the women weren’t given a more pronounced role in that installment. Still I hope there will be more of them in the next ones and the author deserves kudos for the mere idea! It was as if equal rights for women were imposed on the English society some 200 years earlier, imagine that!

The book is really about the developing relationship between Temeraire, the Dragon won from the French in battle, and Captain Laurence. I admit that, at times the relationship seemed a little weird. Let me give it to you straight – there are the homoerotic undertones clearly present. Is the dragon Laurence’s lover? He is given gifts of jewelry, he had fits of jealousy, and does Laurence really call that 10-ton creature “my dear” time and again ? (pst pst – yes, he does). One time he even makes his beloved pet very excited indeed if you get my drift…it was an accident as Laurence didn’t know what he was doing but still…and you know what? It worked for me! These two had a very unusual dynamics – William does things like reading books to Temeraire, or giving him baths, that the other aviators just don’t do. And in his own, unassuming way, Laurence upsets the status quo. This isn’t, generally, a good idea if you happen to be in a military outfit—less so when it’s the nineteenth century. What can be said: I understood. I love my pretty, pretty dragons and I know pets can be pretty jealous as I am the owner of a very jealous dog!

What I didn’t like:

I admit the narration was predictable – you could see plot twists coming a mile away – but that doesn’t make the story any less satisfying. Have I mentioned all those pretty dragons? And yes, the book is rather one big adventure than something character-driven but…the dragons!!!

Final verdict:

His Majesty’s Dragon is a fantastic combination of wit and humour with conflict and difficult decisions. It is also one of the best books featuring a dragon as a main character I’ve read so far. Paolini’s immature rendition of a draconian ‘plaything’ doesn’t even come close to this complex tale of love, loyalty and sacrifices. You may find some parts of the story hard going, but if you persist, it’s totally worth it. Personally I am in for another installment!!!Give me more dragons!!! Five stars!!!
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Books in the Series
His Majesty’s Dragon
Throne of Jade
Black Powder War

Fantasy Novellas Reviews: ‘The Wandering Tale’ by Tristan Gregory


This is a collection of novellas set in a single world, and only loosely connected: a minor character from one story becomes more important in the next one. Each one is published and sold separately.
#1: The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth When a man returns to his village after nineteen years away fighting in the wars, young William is fascinated by his stories of the life of a soldier, and the battles hes been in. But when other former soldiers start to cause trouble, he realises that bravery isnt just for kings and soldiers. This is a cracking story of a boy growing to manhood in a small village, and learning the truth about being a hero. Great characterisation, a well judged balance between action and slower passages, a perfect ending and with more emotional resonance than Ive seen in some well-regarded works many times its length. A beautifully crafted piece which I loved. Five stars.

#2: The Three Fingers of Death This book focuses on the apprentice smith seen briefly in the previous story, and tells a tale which doesnt quite have the same charm as the first, but has an atmosphere all its own. The characters here are equally well-drawn, and the story unfolds in easy stages until the smith is called upon to use some unusual skills. And then, suddenly, were in different territory altogether. I have to confess that when the smith created the three swords of the title, it made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Truly a fascinating perspective on the use of magic, and the responsibilities inherent in that. Four stars.
#3: The Giant of the Tidesmouth Im beginning to get the hang of the authors strategy now, so I spotted the connecting character in the previous book – Hedmund, the very large young man setting off for his big walk, the period as a mercenary traditional amongst his mountain clansmen. This story is about Hedmunds adventures on the road and his first battles. As always, the characters are wonderfully real, with dialogue which captures the essence of each one. There is some solid world-building going on in the background, too. Each story in the series can be read on its own, but anyone who reads them all will begin to understand a great deal about the history of this world. And possibly geography too, but for the directionally challenged among us, a map would have been useful. This seemed a little more lightweight than the previous two tales, and I never felt that Hedmund was in serious danger. An enjoyable read. Four stars.
#4: The Crown Unconquered In this story, the mysterious man, Daven, seen in the woods of the previous tale, takes centre stage, becoming the ambassador at the court of Normarch, a potential ally for Valec, the kingdom vanquished in the war. The political machinations and shifting alliances are the background here, so this one is a little more complicated but it’s not hard to work out the various factions. There’s a lot of tension, since Daven has to pass through enemy territory to reach Normarch, and then has the risk of presenting himself to the king without knowing quite what reaction he’ll get. Another cracking story, with some great characters, just enough action and room for a romantic distraction. I very much liked the dilemma Daven was presented with. Clearly he has dutifully married to produce heirs, even though his wife is – not compatible, shall we say. And then he meets Allindra… who wouldn’t be tempted? This was beautifully done. And a fine ending, too. The book may be short, but it’s absolutely perfect. Five stars.
The story so far… I don’t know how many of these tales the author plans, but with each release a little more of the created world and recent political events is revealed, and the more fascinating it becomes. There’s a lot of subtlety here. People are honourable without being stupid or caricatures, they behave in believable ways and display both intelligence and strength of character. Even the bad guys have reasonable motivations. Below the surface are some thought-provoking themes – of war and honour and duty and bravery, the responsibility of power and the pragmatism of politics. Each episode is a little gem in its own right, but together they add up to something much more interesting. Highly recommended.

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