Is it a fantasy, murder mystery, or even a political satire? This debut novel from Stephen Deas is a wonderful mix of all three, as well as a most entertaining read.
The book opens with two lovers escaping for a well-planned tryst. Their means of transport? Dragon. Not many can follow, and as soon as they are away from view, the two share a ride. But during the exchange, the Harvest Queen falls to her death. Was it an accident, or was she pushed? Very quickly the reader discovers that the political ambitions of Jehal know no bounds, and a simple murder is only the first of many underhanded techniques that he uses in an effort to unite the various nations under his rule. For the most part, this book, and the following series is the story of Jehal’s rise to power.
Many regular fantasy readers will be aware that most authors have no idea how to handle mythical creatures, especially dragons. The whole idea that dragons are little more than glorified ponies just bothers me. At first Deas seems to follow that regular formula, but then he takes the time to hint that there is a reason for the domesticity of the dragons, and only the alchemists know the secret. But then a dragon escapes, and it quickly becomes apparent that the dragons are drugged from ‘birth’. As the escaped dragon begins to realise what has been done to her for seven years, she begins a campaign to free her enslaved brethren. This becomes an engaging second plot.
During this book, both stories remain independent. However, as the series progresses, I can’t help wonder how the increasing independence of the dragons is going to impact on Jehal’s plans.
This is a relatively short fantasy novel without the massive ‘information dump’ that is so common in the genre. The action begins with the murder in chapter one, and continues relentlessly to the battle between the dragons and the alchemists. There are extensive genealogical charts at the start of the book, but personally, I would have loved to see a map. But maybe the fact that I had to construct the geography in my own mind helped keep me engaged in the story.
Certainly I am looking forward to book 2.