Monday, February 22, 2010
Dragons have always been a staple in fantasy fiction. When I was a little girl I always associated dragons with tales of valiant knights who slay the dragon to save the fair princess. Kind of like "Shrek," but without the happy ending for the dragon. When I was in my late teens I stumbled across Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonriders of Pern" series and truly fell in love with the idea of intelligent dragons. And, over the years, have consistently gone back to the genre with authors like Naomi Novik and Mercedes Lackey. But the latest take on the dragon myth by Stephen Deas is like no other dragon tale I have read before. The Adamantine Palace is an incredibly fast moving book. It grabs hold from the first chapter and doesn't let go until the very end. Centering around the struggle for power in Realms, "The Adamantine Palace" primarily follows the machinations of Prince Jehal. Known as "the Viper," Jehal seduces, murders and poisons his way through various plots to control the Realms by becoming the Speaker of the Realms. Embroiled in the battle for control of the Realms is Queen Shezira, who not-so-coincidentally is Jehal's soon-to-be mother-in-law. One of the wedding gifts Shezira endeavors to bring to the wedding is a perfect white dragon. Dragons are power in the Realms. They used to wreak havoc on the people; burning settlements and killing people indiscriminately for food. But the alchemists of the Realms developed a potion that keeps the dragons under control and sedate enough to ride-- until someone tries to steal the perfect white and she comes out from under the spell of the alchemists' potion. "The Adamantine Palace" moves from the two congruent story-lines and each are compelling in their own ways. The maneuvering of Jehal is virtually endless and the plotting grows increasingly complex. You'll think you know where the story is going to take you only to be completely confounded as it finds another avenue. But what really sets the book apart is how Deas envisions his dragons. Snow, the perfect white, is our view into dragonkind. In fact, we're treated to an inside glimpse of Snow's perspective. But instead of making the dragon more relatable, it makes her terrifying. Once Snow starts coming out of her potion-induced stupor, she begins to remember a time when dragons were not enslaved by men. The more aware she becomes, the more determined she becomes to free the other dragons. Forcing a couple of mercenaries to help her, she begins her search for the stronghold of the alchemists so she can destroy the people responsible for controlling the dragons. Snow is not an empathetic dragon. She doesn't see humans as friends or allies. She sees them as food. She has the intelligence to use them to further her aims, but there is always the threat of violence as her control is much like that of a child. There's a lot of good storytelling going on in "The Adamantine Palace," though the action takes precedence over character development and world building. We know very little about the Realms as the geography, the people and the political structures are sketchily defined at best. The characters are slightly stereotypical and strangely there really aren't any heroes in Deas' fantasy. There are relatable characters, but we don't see moments of heroism as much as people just trying to survive. But still, it's a riveting book in it's own way. I wanted to see what Jehal was going to do next: what his plotting was really all about. I wanted to know if Snow was going to lose control and just kill everyone in her path. There might be a few weaknesses to "The Adamantine Palace," but overall I didn't care. It was a page turner to the end.