Archive for March, 2012

The Adamantine Palace

The back cover to Stephen Deas’s, The Adamantine Palace, promises dragons that kick ass, and while I was dying to follow up with “indeed they do,” there are perhaps too few moments of ass kickery to say that with a smile on my face. For the most part the dragons are docile, doing what they’re commanded to, but when one is stolen and lives too long without the potions that are keeping the dragons so tame, she snaps. She’s certainly good at roasting everything in sight and crushing any unfortunate men in the way, and boy does she delight in it.  There’s no loyalty. No empathy. Her thoughts and emotions spread and affect all those around her. It feels alien, strange, and quite refreshing.

That’s not her.

When I picked up this book a while back I’d actually been looking for the sequel to Dragon Keeper instead. I’m not even sure how it caught my eye since nothing on the spine would have led me to pick it up. But I did, and when I read the back I was intrigued by some similarities between it and my own work. We have dragons intentionally being kept weak for control and safety purposes, and most people don’t even know about it. The dragons certainly don’t. I wanted to see how Deas handled the matter. The similarities differ outside of that, but I’ve never heard of that theme before. Near the end I was a bit unsettled to discover the source of their potions is a plant that leaves a purple residue, the same color as the flowers in novel used for the same purposes. Of all the colors and sources he could have chosen. . .

Most of The Adamantine Palace keeps the dragons in the background. We do get a few chapters of the captured dragon’s POV, Snow, but mostly it focuses on a long list of human characters, all of which seem out to get each other. In particular, Prince Jehal, who for some reason I kept rooting for despite what a vile piece of work he is. I kept asking myself why the whole book. Charisma? I don’t know, but he is oddly likable. It’s one of those cases where you want to see just how far someone can go before they’re inevitably caught. These characters are flawed and you never know who to root for, though it’s fun to watch and see who’ll come out on top. I found myself sympathizing with someone one chapter, and being disgusted with them then next.

It’s a quick read too. The novel’s less than 370 pages and has 71 chapters if you count the prologue and epilogue. Do the math. I always like short chapters because it gives comfortable stopping points, but this is taking it to an extreme. There’s constantly something new to focus on, so there’s no weariness from drawn out chapters. Ironically, I keep trying to push myself in my own writing to get near twenty-five pages in a chapter, unless there’s a perfect stopping point before that.

It’s not a deep work, but I found The Adamantine Palace refreshing, unique, and engaging. Sadly, it seems that just as we begin to get an idea for how the dragons work, the book’s over. I have a feeling we’ll get more in the future. I’ll have to see, won’t I?


The Elvenbane

When I read a novel by multiple authors, I often find myself wondering who wrote what and just how they worked. The first time I tried writing a novel it was with a coauthor, and what we did was email the file back and forth, adding and editing as we went. Since Norton and Lackey’s The Elvenbane was released a few years before the internet, I’m guessing it didn’t quite go that way. I’m not familiar with Andre Norton’s other works, but I did notice some Lackeyisms: her knowledge of birds, use of magical traps, and near comically evil characters.

I bought the sequel to The Elvenbane back before I knew it was a series. It was on the clearance rack at a Books-a-Million back in the 90s. I remember getting it while on a trip to Disney. I’m not sure why we were sidetracked at bookstores, but we were. The sole reason I got it is because it had an awesome cover, and I do believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for appealing cover art. I was all ready for a dragon story, a story that the cover promised. I read a few pages at our hotel but then lost interest. I think at that point I realized that it was indeed a sequel and didn’t want to get too deep into without reading the first. It’d been sitting on my book shelf ever since.

I was reminded that it was a series when I saw part 3 at a used bookstore a few months ago. Judging from it it looked like there might be some good human/dragon interaction, something I’ve always looked for to help me with my own novel and enjoy anyway. I looked for part 1. They had it. It was paperback. I’d already unintentionally committed to hardback due to my first purchase. Can’t stand having a series that isn’t all the same format. I finally had to order it online.

Even after finishing the book, I have no idea who that dragon is. The girl is easy, but the dragon? No. They’re described as being different colors than that, plus larger.

It’s a decently long story. If you have the paperback it’s topping five hundred pages. My hardback was 390 with plenty of words per page. It’s also slow. A third of the book passes before the main story even happens. Up until then its full of flashbacks and a character who we’ll never see again. It would have flowed better and been more interesting if the story started with Shana’s birth (red headed girl on the cover.) Any information given in the beginning could have been left a mystery that she had to learn about. She still does, but since we already know, it seems excess.

So the real story begins with Shana’s birth where she’s taken in by a dragon who’s about to birth a daughter of her own. It’s a take on the old Jungle Book theme with a human being raised by another kind. And while we’ve all seen it before, the authors make it interesting with an element I would have annoyed me in most contexts.

The dragons can shape shift. That’s up there with telepathy in my book of magical cop outs. Oh, yeah, the dragons can do that too.

But since they can change form, including taking a human form, Shana grows up thinking she too is a dragon, only stuck as a human (or in her case, a half elf, half human.) Of course when the secret gets out that she really isn’t a dragon, everything blows up. Her adoptive mother certainly never bothered to let her in on the secret. I do like her, but often I debated if she could be considered a bad mother. This is in particular since her real daughter is a vile little creature who seems to be neglected throughout the book. She eventually ends up getting taken in by another dragon who’s equally unpleasant. I kept wanting to see her get better, but it never happened. That might be one of those Lackey touches where if someone’s going evil, there’s no saving them. It’s frustrating.

Also frustrating came from the way of a forced relationship. Well, a relationship actually never happened, but I could feel one or both of the authors trying their hardest to bring Shana together with someone else later in the book. Maybe that happens in the sequels, I don’t know, but it never felt right. It didn’t help that there was another character that Shana had great chemistry with and who we hear over and over that when they’re together it just feels right, and how happy and content the other party is being with her. All that set up and I feel the authors were determined to avoid it.

Those complaints aside, I really did enjoy most of the characters. It’s fun watching Shana grow up and discover her powers (hybrids have very strong magic, which is why she ends up being such a big deal to the elves who want no one to threaten their dominance.) Kemen, her adoptive dragon brother, was just darling and warmed up every scene he was in. He needed to be in there more. Valyn seemed to be much deeper than was let on and it’s always a pleasure to see someone stand up to their own kind when they know they’re wrong. Several of the minor characters thankfully had their own personalities. The villains weren’t too interesting other than Triana, a witch of sorts who we only see briefly near the end in a side plot. It isn’t really needed other than to make Valyn look like a failure.

It was a good read, just slow and frustrating at times. I do want to read the sequels just to see what happens with my favorite characters, but I don’t feel compelled to quite yet. I have a lot of new books I want to get to this year, but I’ll come back to the series eventually. It’s just a shame that it’ll never be complete since Andre Norton has passed away. I fear getting to the end of book 3 to find a cliffhanger.