Sunday, October 25, 2009

Master of Dragons by Margaret Weis

The last book in the Dragonvarld trilogy, Master of Dragons is, like the others, a fairly fast read that probably could have been better if it were incorporated into a single book like its predecessors. Again, we had the fairly large font, the wider than expected margins, and again the feeling that the story was released in 3 books in order to increase the profit margin from the publishers (perhaps capitalizing on Weis' name amongst fantasy readers?).

I think the biggest word I can use to sum up this book is predictable. The major surprise at the end of the second book (The Dragon's Son) was undone in this book; Draconis survives the attack and continues to interact with the protagonists. While I have to say I genuinely like Draconis as a character (probably the best fleshed out of any of the characters), I think it would have been better had he stayed dead, with his cause perhaps being picked up by another dragon.

There were also elements in this book that really didn't go anywhere, and characters that were developed and not capitalized on. For example, we learn that another dragon (a female called Lysira) has a thing for Draconis. But nothing comes of this, besides some pithy words and descriptions of throbbing hearts. The end result is that Draconis comes off as being manipulative to his own kind, despite being characterized as being empathetic to the humans. Another character is Evelina, introduced in the previous book, who is built up as being a teen-age manipulator (she attempts to get pregnant by Marcus, one of the protagonists and the bastard son of royalty, with the idea it will "force" him to love her, and give her an easy life of plenty), in such a way I briefly thought I was back in high school, but the only real purpose she serves is to poison a dragon disguised as a human (over jealousy).

Despite the epicness of the concept (a world ruled by dragons, some of whom broke their own laws to manipulate humans into servitude), the ending was a bit less than epic. One of the core concepts of the books was that the development of human technology could herald a day when they are powerful enough to hunt down the dragons and kill them off. A major point was made that the development by King Edward of turntable mounted artillery could bring parity and possibly allow humans to slay dragons. Despite this, at the climatic conclusion, the cannons are never fired, humans never get a chance to slay dragons, and in fact it took the intervention of other dragons sympathetic to the human cause to intervene and chase off the antagonists.

One last gripe. The epilogue is about Evelina and her fate. Despite poisoning a disguised dragon, she is brought up on charges of murder (which is, in my opinion, correct, since intent is just as important as actions). She manages to avoid the death penalty (she did reveal the impostor dragon!) and is exiled to a remote nunnery. The final thoughts we have from the book is how she will manipulate herself into a position of power and influence within the nunnery.

My question is why end the book talking about the fate of what is really a minor and unimportant character that does little of value in the book? Why not instead discuss Draconis' relationship with his fellow dragons? Perhaps the reforging of the Dragon Parliament? Or even Marcus' burgeoning relationship with the Mistress of Dragons from Seth (which, having no real development didn't seem to be an important addition).

It almost feels like the ending of the book was rushed, and that Weis had intended more material in the series, but got edited.

Don't get me wrong now, the series was OK. But in the end, I think it started well but ended a bit flat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Dragon's Son by Margaret Weis

The second book in the Dragonvarld trilogy (first being Mistress of Dragons, which I had previously blogged about) picks up where the previous book left off. The twin boys, one part dragon, one the bastard of royalty, have grown up and now must deal with the powers their heritage has given them. Ven (short for "Vengeance") grows up unloved by Bellona, his life focused on the eventual revenge she intends upon his father. Meanwhile, Marcus grows up in the King's household, trapped in his own thoughts as he experiences a Dragon's mind. Again, Draconas is there to guide them through, though not always successful. He does manage to guide Marcus back to sanity, but for Ven he is unable to do anything for him.

Being the middle book of the trilogy often makes for a less exciting or interesting book. Where the first book sets up the universe, characters, and the conflict, the middle book often is tasked with developing the story, without the benefit of the final book's climax (which for fantasy is also often the most action packed). This book is no different, and I didn't find it quite as exciting as the first.

One interesting development in this series is that Weis is not afraid to pull punches. The bodycount continues to pile up. Whereas in the previous book we had only Melisande die, in this book we have both Belonna well as Draconas! The latter is probably the biggest surprise in the book, since I was positive that he would develop as the primary character of the trilogy. I also found it point of view important in telling both sides of the story.

I started reading volume 3 (Master of Dragons, to be blogged about in the future), and there hasn't been any great revelations or surprises. Hopefully the payoff of the story meets up with my expectations...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Star Wars: Abyss by Troy Denning

The thing about genre fiction is that for the most part, when you buy a book there is the expectation of more of the same, and not great literature. In a sense it's like catching another episode of your favorite TV show. Watching Star Trek, for example, is not like watching Citizen Kane or or similarly reading 1984; that doesn't mean its not worthwhile or entertaining on its own.

Occasionally, your expectations are surprised, and the bar is raised. A little.

Troy Denning's latest addition to the Fate of the Jedi series starts out like most Star Wars books. However, the pacing is good, the mystery suitable, and the payoff in the end well rewarding. For a change, Troy describes a lightsaber battle that is vivid, interesting, and surprising.

The plot unfolds as the still-exiled Luke and Ben travel to The Maw (a cluster of black holes) to continue to research why Jacen -- Darth Caedus -- fell of the deep end and turned to the dark side. There they discover a space station -- a smaller twin of Centerpoint Station -- where force sensitives and users float in a Force trance in an effort to dissassociate themselves from the physical world and transcend into the Force. Of course not all is as it seems...

Oh yeah, and the Sith are active in the galaxy again. This time, they are exiles stranded on a planet for 5000 years. Old school Sith.

And, the Jedi are still dealing with some of their order going crazy.

While Luke and Ben are investigating the "Mind Walkers" the Sith find out where they are and attempt to capture and/or kill the Jedi.

I think Denning did a good job describing the final showdown between the Jedi and the Sith exiles, being very vivid and well described. Unlike other Star Wars novels, where the action can be a little turgid, Denning's pacing is very good and gives an excellent sense of the action.

Although not specifically evident here, one issue I have with the Star Wars Expanded Universe is the recycled plots an use of "one-upsmanship." For example, in the Original trilogy, the Death Star could destroy whole planets. In the EU, that wasn't enough, so now we get star destroyers that can do the same, or even worse, a small fighter-type craft that is both indestructable and can destroy whole stars! Not to mention the Yuushan Vong, a threat to destroy the entire Galaxy! But just as worse, the plot of the Original Trilogy (and to an extend the prequels) is recycled both in the Legacy of the Force series, as well as Dark Horse's Legacy series. I'm hoping this series avoids both traps and defines itself as something original within the setting. Apropriate drama and gravitas can be created without recycling themes or devistating threats to the Galaxy...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mistress of Dragons by Margaret Weis

I picked up this book by Margaret Weis a little less than a year ago at a discount store, in hardback. I can hardly pass up a discounted hardback in a genre I enjoy, so compulsively bought this book as well as the other two in the series.

One would wonder what more Weis has to say on dragons, given that she is the other half of the classic Dragonlance trilogies. However, in the end Weis delivers, and this book turned out to be an enjoyable read.

The gist of the book is thus: there is a small kingdom called Seth, that has the unfortunate luck of being attacked by dragons with alarming frequency. Defending this kingdom is an order of female monks, some trained in defensive magic, with the rest trained as warriors, and through both efforts they manage to keep the peace.

Of course, not everything is as it seems. Dragons are not the savage beasts humanity believes them to be; rather they are intelligent, with their own form of government and very strict hands off laws regarding humans. One of these dragons has broken that law, conquered a human kingdom, and rules it as her own.

The Kingdom of Seth.

Reading this book, the first few chapters were pretty rough; it almost seemed to me to be on the level of someone's fanfic. However, after the first few chapters, the story really rolled along and became intriguing. Unfortunately the book is rather short: although nominally coming in at 381 pages, I was easily reading more than 100pgs every night. The font size is rather large with lots of white space along the margins, suggesting to me that this book should have been more like 200pgs, but had been padded out to make it a thicker (and perhaps more appealing?) hardback. With that in mind (physical characteristics appear the same in the next 2 volumes) it seems to me that the publisher wanted to milk 3 volumes out of the series, when it probably should have been one book instead. While I'm not especially upset about this, as I got all volumes either at a discounter or via Ebay, I think if I paid full price for these books, I'd be a bit disappointed.

One note: at the end of the book two babies are born from one of the protagonists. While one baby is the result of a natural union, the second resulted from a rape by a dragon (if you thought dragons can't rape a human woman...), possessing a dragon's body from waist down. From my limited (Intro to Biology college class) knowledge on the subject of genetics, I don't think such a physical characteristic could happen, but given that this is fantasy (and there is a tradition of such things) one can easily give it the pass.

Finally, in compliance with our benevolent overlords, the FCC, I'd like to thank my wallet for supplying this review copy.