Imagine France of Louis XIII as described by Alexandre Dumas – a land of flashing blades, swishing caps, duels, beauties and intrigues- but with real dragons, wyverns, drac thugs and dragonnets.
After a five year hiatus Cardinal Richelieu summons ex-captain La Fargue. Previously one of his most trusted tools, now La Fargue is an ageing, embittered and disillusioned man, not especially keen to return to Richelieu’s service. Our Cardinal blackmails and threatens him because he needs La Fargue and his small unit of the best mercenaries in France, formerly known as Cardinal’s Blades, to return to service.
They have to stop the Spanish order of Black Claw. The Black Claw, consisting of half-dragon royalty and their descendants, wants to establish a kind of outpost in Paris and slowly gain the upper hand over the Kingdom. They are very secretive and cautious and officially France cannot afford a new enemy so the mission of the Blades might prove far more complex than it seems at first glance. Still La Fargue cannot fail – the life of his only daughter depends on his efforts. He gets mixed into the double and the triple game between Richelieu and vicomtesse de Malicorne, the head of the Black Claw residing in Paris. Will he be able to save his daughter and France from the evil dragons?
What I liked:
The mere idea of seventeen century Paris with Richelieu and musketeers appealed to me very much – it was fresh and original. Let me also add that the author built the fictional world with utmost care, describing the Parisian streets in a very vivid way and making me wish for a dragonnet pet instantly. The action’s pretty frenetic and if you like such books you will be more than satisfied – you’ve got swordfights a-plenty, rooftop battles and lots of visits to inns which end in a brawl, point-blank shootings and galloping horses.
I also liked the fact that, unlike maudlin heroines of Mr. Dumas, here women played an active role, fighting, plotting and thinking independently; although I didn’t see them as often as I wished I would, I was more or less satisfied with their performance.
Let me also add that the last scene was very promising – something which might incline me to read the second part of the series as well. Pével certainly knows how to throw in a dramatic revelation right at the end.
What I didn’t like:
I know it is a swashbuckling novel with the action being its raison d’etre but I sorely missed character building here, especially that there were some really promising heroes: like Saint-Lucq, or Agnes, the intrepid baroness or vicomtesse de Malicorne, a charmingly dangerous dragon in a skin of a beautiful woman. Instead you get something like an extensive collection of character clichés – a battle hardened captain with a secret; a dashing womanizer; a good humoured, hard drinking old soldier; a brooding half-breed assassin; a prodigal Spanish swordsman; a strong-willed token female thrown in for good measure so you don’t drown in all this testosterone. The action jumps too abruptly from character to character so the readers lack time to bond with any of them. After a while they all seem two-dimensional, with an emphasis on cruelty and selfishness.
What’s more, in my humble opinion the author overused a ‘survival from death’ plot device, employing it so many times that it lost all its potential value, making most of the fighting scenes downright silly after a while.
Finally let me tell you that the English translator of this novel didn’t make a good job of it. There are too many mistakes – dangling participles litter every page, and pronouns referring to the wrong nouns can be found in almost every paragraph. I wasn’t impressed.
Overall if you like a plot that makes sense and relatable (or even distinguishable) characters, this is not a book for you. As far as I remember even in The Three Musketeers there was more characterization and depth.
I love sentient dragons in fiction – if I loved them a little bit less I would assess this novel much harsher. When it comes to the world building it really wasn’t bad but the lack of proper characterization spoiled it for me. I might pick the next part of the series to check whether it gets any better.