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05 June 2008 @ 08:43 pm
Book review: Dragonforge  
(disclaimer: James Maxey nicely gave me a free ARC of Dragonforge so I could blog about it. Also, this will by necessity contain some minor spoilers about Bitterwood.)

Dragonforge is the sequel to Maxey's Bitterwood, which came out last year. Like Bitterwood, it's set in a post-Apocalyptic world where dragons rules, and where humanity's sole function is to serve them.

It opens in the aftermath of Bitterwood: Dragon King Albekizan's attempt to commit genocide on humans has failed, and Albekizan himself died at the hands of the cynical dragon-slayer Bitterwood. Albekizan's son Shandrazel is now King, and faces the task of reconciling dragonkind and mankind--no easy matter when both sides are convinced the others want to exterminate/enslave them.

The novel itself focuses on characters from Bitterwood: Jandra, the girl raised by dragons and inheritor to her mentor's "magic"; Pet, the shallow, opportunistic human whom everyone mistook for a hero; Bitterwood, the dragonslayer still struggling with his faith; Zeeky, the little girl who can understand animals. It also introduces new characters: Graxen, a mongrel sky-dragon whose dreams to mate have been denied by the sky-dragons' eugenic programs; Burke, a mechanic who once fought dragons with Bitterwood and whose machines may be the advantage the human rebellion needs; and Hex, an anarchist dragon and Shandrazel's exiled brother.

Maxey successfully uses this setting to explore a number of questions: he tackles the problem of dominant species (should there be one? Does it have the right to exterminate everything in its path? Can humanity reclaim the world it once destroyed without polluting it once more?), of faith and false gods (is blind belief enough? are the gods one believes in worth worshipping?), and of the uses of technology (can it make people's lives better, or is it doomed to lead to an arms race?).

This might make you think this is going to be a dry, boring book about important ethical questions. But the joy of Dragonforge is that Maxey manages to raise all those issues while keeping a tight grip on a fast-paced narrative, filled with suspense, reversals and suitable hazards for every character involved.

I really liked the intricacies of the various races of dragons--besides which the humans pale in comparison. Bitterwood is a suitably psychopathic character, though in this novel he takes a much smaller role than in Bitterwood, leaving Jandra to pretty much take centre-stage. Her struggles to come to terms with her identity and with the truth about her world ring very true. I also liked the character of Hex, who's very pragmatic and has a wry, engaging sense of humour. I definitely hope to see more of him in the third book.

I did have a couple of problems with the book: I thought that there were slightly too many viewpoint characters, which tended to dilute my concern for every one of them--though the most important ones definitely resonated with me. Also, the characters had a tendency to preach at each other, some times in the midst of tension-filled situations where their long speeches didn't ring particularly true. (I also wasn't a big fan of people using science to play God, though it was well done in this story--but that's just a personal pet peeve of mine).

But it's still a very good read. The major drawback is that it doesn't stand on its own: I think you'll have a hard time making sense of it if you've never read Bitterwood, and it ends like the second book of a trilogy: the plot comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but does leave a number of important threads hanging.

Personally, I'm lining up for Book 3.

You can read cool stuff about the Dragon Age novels over at http://dragonprophet.blogspot.com/, and James maintains a personal blog over at http://jamesmaxey.blogspot.com/.
 
 
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