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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"The King of the Crags" by Stephen Deas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Stephen Deas Website
Order The King of the Crags HERE
Read FBC Review of The Adamantine Palace

"The Adamantine Palace" was one of the novels that resonated with me a lot and my estimation of it improved on the first reread, while remaining as powerful on the second reread I have completed just before starting "The King of the Crags".

Due to the mixed reviews I saw for "The Adamantine Palace" including our own FBC review from Robert linked above, I meditated a bit on why I liked it so much and found it both fresh and exciting. I think that mostly it was the "take no prisoners" attitude of the book and the ambiguity of most characters. "The Adamantine Palace" just rolls on from the first memorable pages of sex and murder on the back of a huge and dangerous dragon and never stops to "explain" things and while its setup is pseudo-medieval plus dragons with all the associated paraphernalia, it reads like a ride on one its powerful and barely tamed dragons...

In consequence "The King of the Crags" became a 2010 Top 10 Anticipated Novel and while I liked it well enough to recommend it and rank it a strong A, I was a bit underwhelmed by it, not necessarily by what it does, but more by what it does not do. In essence "The King of the Crags" plays it safer and confines itself to a "traditional" second book status which means that a lot of what goes on here is transitional while there is additional world building to satisfy the critics rather than continuing to let it go to the hilt.

"The King of the Crags" stands at 364 pages divided into 48 named chapters. The books starts with genealogies of the Kings and Queens of the 9 Realms, a map and a prologue that segues directly from "The Adamantine Palace"; the epilogue closes one of the main threads, the "bridge" one that was introduced here as noted below, while the several chapters preceding it promise great stuff for the next book.

The main POV's are the (surviving) ones from "The Adamantine Palace", Jehal, Zafir, Kemir, Semian, Vale, Jaslyn, with several additions who had a more minor role in the debut. Like "The Adamantine Palace", "The King of the Crags" stands at the border between adventure and epic fantasy.

Since Robert reviewed "The Adamantine Palace", I will present here my quick take on the series setup and then discuss a bit how "The King of the Crags" continues the tale.

The Dragon Realms in which the novels take place, are a largish area bordered by mountains and sea and which contain pretty much all the standard geographical zones, from the cold mountains to the warm lowlands and the sea. There are Nine Realms, though the Desert one has almost disappeared as a separate country due to events that took place some decades ago and which are explained more in
"The King of the Crags".

Each realm is defined by its geography and by its number of dragons, number which is crucial in the geopolitics of the series since the total number of dragons in the world seems to be unchanged, so a new dragon can hatch only when another dies; there are more hints about the history of the world and why things are as they are, but the other crucial thing about dragons is that they need to be drugged immediately after hatching since if they remain sentient, for once they remember all their previous lives and for another they hate humans with a passion and kill and eat them on sight.

The mysterious Taytakei, sea traders with magic of their own and rumored to covet a dragon hatchling, seem to favor Prince Jehal aka "the viper" of The Endless Sea Realm who rules with his gelded uncle Meteroa as Chief Alchemist and main adviser, as regent for his comatose father King Tyan and is the main schemer in the series so far and the most interesting character for me.

Among the ruling families of the Nine Realms there is a continual struggle for power and influence, with the ten year elected position of Speaker of the Realms as a pinnacle of achievement and mediating the Dragon royalty from the Adamantine Palace itself, while commanding the loyalty both of the Alchemists who are so crucial for keeping the dragons in check and of the powerful Night Guard.

"The Adamantine Palace" consists of two main threads - the intrigue and scheming to succeed retiring speaker Hyram, intrigue that involves his "official" successor and sister-in-law, powerful Queen of the North Shezira, whose three daughters are also of consequence in their own, one as a Queen of a smaller realm and two as Heirs to strong realms, and the upstart young Queen Zafir and her secret lover and Shezira's son-in-law Jehal who opens the book so memorably by murdering Zafir's mother, Queen Aliphera in their tryst on the back of the dragon.

The other thread consists of the "awakening" of a special white dragon that was supposed to be Jehal's as dowry from Shezira's daughter Lystra, dragon that got "kidnapped" on the way to Jehal's palace.
This thread involves mercenary Kemir and nobleman Semian and intertwines with the first one in the powerful climax of the novel.

The King of Crags
continues the story started there and essentially keeps the same two threads while adding a new "bridge" one, except that now with the election of the new speaker and following the events at the end of the
"The Adamantine Palace" the realms are moving towards open war; only the reclusive and single most powerful of all royals as number of dragons go, Valmeyan, King of the Crags can avert the war if he chooses to play peacemaker and to everyone's surprise he comes to the inauguration of the new Speaker, though his reasons are to be determined.

Snow, the awakened dragon was thwarted in her attempts to "free" the dragons but is still alive and has her own designs; it's up to the only human that so far managed to be her companion/pet, mercenary Kemir, to keep her in check. And to add a new wrinkle, Semian now slightly mad and dreaming of flames and revenge, recreates a rebel band called The Red Riders that legend claims it precedes total war and devastation of the Realms, while another "figure" of the old, times a member of the proscribed blood mage organization fishes in the troubled waters with plans of his own.

As a traditional middle novel "The King of the Crags" keeps the major threads above in play though there are some resolutions on the way. The novel is even more brutal that the first one, darker and more cynical with no-nonsense and sentimentality; the awakened dragons still hate humans with a passion and eat them when they do not burn them, queens and kings die, cities are burned and the prize - if anything will remain intact of course - is still there for the taking.

For me this "play safer" rather than continuing to "roll the dice" so to speak and go in unexpected places was the reason
"The King of the Crags" was less of a favorite then "The Adamantine Palace" since it brought only a little new stuff at the table so to speak; so while I enjoyed "The King of the Crags" well enough and I thought the author attained his stated goal in the note at the end, to write a more "traditional" fantasy at least as far as explanations and world building go - "The King of the Crags" sits squarely in the "new gritty" camp and it even features to great success I say, the dual polite nonsense dialogue, cynical "true thoughts" that seems to be a trope of such - I missed the "let's roll" attitude of the debut.


Anonymous said...

How did you grade this one? A solid A?

Liviu said...

more of a strong A which means that I would recommend it as a very good series entry but one in a pack of such

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

The first book of this series caught my attention at the bookstore about a week ago. I seriously thought about getting it, but I have a few (okay several) books here to get through first. But with this second book being available, well they sounds like interesting reads - for me. I am going to have to get through this summer and I may pick these up. Thank you for the review.


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