Monday, 26 January 2009

‘Dragon in Chains’ – Daniel Fox (Del Rey)


As I’ve already mentioned on the blog, if there’s one fantasy archetype that I don’t mind seeing over and over again it’s the (not so humble) dragon. I’m an unrepentant ‘dragon fan’, that’s all there is to it. All it takes is the smallest mention that a dragon might appear, during the course of the plot, and I’m there for the long haul. I’m also developing a bit of a taste for fantasy that’s based in an Oriental setting, whether it’s Daniel Abraham’s rather good ‘Long Price’ books or Alison Goodman’s not so great (but still entertaining) ‘The Two Pearls of Wisdom’. I’m finding this setting fresh (not having read much of this stuff) and ‘fresh’ (for me) always means that there are new worlds to explore and that’s a good thing.
All of this meant that I came to ‘Dragon in Chains’ with a feeling of healthy anticipation. A fantasy novel with an Oriental setting and a dragon, could anything be cooler than that? Well, as it turned out, a lot of things could be cooler but (at the same time) I think I’ve found another series that I’ll be keeping an eye on.

The small island of Taishu is set to be the scene for confrontations between armies and something a lot larger... A young emperor arrives on the island and immediately begins to make preparations for his last stand against the rebels massing on the coast. It’s not just the rebels he must concern himself with though as the islanders are growing resentful at his presence. If this was all the emperor had to deal with then perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad but then we have the dragon...
A dragon lies beneath the strait that separates Taishu from the mainland, bound by chains that a community of monks must keep charged with magic. When pirates slaughter the monks, their duty is passed on to a maimed slave who must fight a constant battle with the dragon inside his own head. If he should fail then the dragon will rise and the death toll will be unimaginable...

‘Dragon in Chains’ had me hooked from start to finish, despite its best attempts to make me put it down and try something else instead. Its beautiful descriptive language (no time for quotes, I’m doing this at work) can really immerse you in the world, and what’s going on in it, but also has a nasty habit of running away with itself sometimes and getting too involved in what it’s describing. It’s a fine line to walk at the best of times and I guess that sometimes you’re going to take a tumble... The upshot is that the (sometimes) overly descriptive prose really slows things down and makes you feel like not a lot is happening. This isn’t true at all but more on that later.
From a world building point of view you could say that ‘Dragon in Chains’ really goes into great depth to create something full of detail and life. From a storytelling point of view, it has a habit of shooting itself in the foot...

I found that ‘Dragon in Chains’ had plenty going on with plenty to cater for fans of politicking and action. This is a world at war so you cannot escape the machinations that come with this! By bringing the Imperial Court to Taishu, Fox gives his readers a wider selection of the populace and is able to show us how they are all affected by the twists and turns of the plot. Fans of character based fantasy won’t miss out either with plenty of time (a little too much maybe, see what I said earlier about pacing...) dedicated to getting inside the heads of the main characters, you may not agree with their actions but at least you get to see why they make the decisions that they do. Later events will make some of these decisions all the more tragic...

In the meantime, the dragon casts a long shadow over the plot even though she is chained to the bottom of the seabed. Her power is only too evident in that even the slightest movement from her wreaks havoc in the world above. What will happen if she gains her freedom...? As far as that question goes I was left wondering if it was perhaps answered a little too early considering that this is the first book in a trilogy. The spectacle, surrounding this answer, is worth it though.

‘Dragon in Chains’ is a book that could do with some serious editing to speed things up but it’s also a book that I was able to totally lose myself in over the last few days. I’ll certainly be around to see if there’s an improvement in the next book (that and I want to see what happens next!)

Eight out of Ten

6 comments:

Calibandar said...

My understanding is that this is a pseudonym for Chaz Brenchley, who's been writing midlist fantasy for a long time now. It comes across as a debut, but it's not. I suspect the quality of the work will be similar to his other stuff.

Calibandar said...

He said, interested in the Peter Beagle collection ( I hope you'll talk about the individual stories in the collection) as well as........Madness of Angels ;)

ediFanoB said...

I'm no fan of dragon stories and since I read His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik I know one more reason why I don't like it.

Dave said...

I'll definitely pick this up when I see it - so far, none of John Jarrold's clients have disappointed, and the concept sounds intruging. :-) Talk about editing - my word, Graeme, I'm reading a manuscript now that needed to be burned, never mind edited properly. :-( Will slog through, though; promised the author a review.

Graeme Flory said...

Calibander - I'm working on my review of the Peter Beagle collection. Story by story, just for you ;o)

ediFanoB - Just wondering, what is it about dragons that you don't like?

Dave - Check it out, I reckon you'll like it ;o)

Graeme Flory said...

Forgot to mention, 'Madness of Angels' is on the horizon :o)