Cons: Lack of polish
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
First published 4/12/2001
Review copy courtesy of Sandra Fallon
In “Reign of the Dragon” there’s an evil wizard named Illdred. Corrupt and foul, he has designs on all sorts of good (and not-so-good) people. None of those people is willing to just sit back and let him have his way, thank goodness. This results in several rather interesting groups of people making their way across the countryside toward Wizards’ Hall. Most of them are searching for the Stone of the Zarians, a stone rumored to nullify the power of wizards.
What I Liked
For a debut novel this book displays an impressive raw talent. It drew me in. By the end of the book I was turning pages eagerly; I needed to know what happened next! The world is engaging and complex, and mostly believable. The characters, although they occasionally stray into stereotyping, for the most part display complex, interesting personalities. There are some marvelous and creative bits of humor and irony sprinkled throughout – I couldn’t help but smile in places. There are also some fun and interesting turns of phrases here and there that show a good talent for word-smithing.
There are unusual details to the world that make it stand out from more standard fantasy fare, such as rain that turns to acid when it contacts flesh. To be honest, I tend to expect very generic fantasy from most debut fantasy writers, and this world was more creative and original than that.
There was a small detail that I’m going to point out individually just because it made me so happy – as the travelers traveled, the fruit they carried rotted. I know it’s a small thing, but it’s the sort of thing that so often gets ignored: the little details that make fantasy real.
There’s one other thing I admired, and it’s a little difficult to explain (particularly as I don’t want to give away the ending). Let’s just say that some powerful creatures enter into the story later on and have a strong hand in its conclusion. Yet it didn’t become a deus ex machina. It’s entirely too easy when playing with powerful creatures for the actions of the “lesser” characters to become irrelevant. To my surprise and pleasure, that doesn’t happen here.
What I Didn’t Like
I can tell that this is Mrs. Fallon’s debut novel; it is definitely rough around the edges. Sometimes the book gets a bit moralistic. Where the events should be allowed to speak for themselves, instead some pointful dialogue is needlessly inserted. Or worse, characters go through these odd little life-changing realizations in which their entire world-view changes in about thirty seconds or less. These are needless sequences, and luckily they mostly come toward the front of the novel. The writing improves as it picks up pace.
There are a number of typos in here, some of which should have been caught by a spell-checker, many of which wouldn’t have (such as apostrophes inserted into plurals). There are a few conventions, such as inserting a blank line when the action shifts to a new location, or starting a second character’s dialogue on a new line, that aren’t always observed. This leads to some minor confusion.
Occasionally different characters’ personalities and voices don’t differ quite enough, or they slide into a modern way of speaking that doesn’t suit them. There are some phrases toward the beginning of the book that feel like standard, overused fantasy-book phrases, and there are some similarly misplaced chunks of exposition.
There are also a few world details or scene details that feel like they weren’t thought through well enough. For example, if the acid rain is so frequent and expected, why isn’t there some conventional means for travelers to protect themselves, like a good water-proofed tarp? Or if a character is “flinging aside” rakes and shovels, then why is he worried about the noise caused by someone coughing?
Is this a perfect book? No, it isn’t. Is it worth reading? Yes, it probably is. It’s an engaging story with interesting characters. There are fun and reasonable plot twists that keep you guessing as to how exactly things will work out. Even the somewhat stereotypical characters have their little quirks and odd bits that make them unusual. Sure, I’d like to be able to see characters’ faces better. I’d like the writing to be more polished. But I also reached the end of this novel wanting more. Mrs. Fallon even managed to pull off an ending that leaves room for the next book without leaving off in the middle of something – thus leaving us wanting without frustrating us.