The King of the Crags review

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The King of the Crags is the second book of the Memory of Flames trilogy. Its predecessor, The Adamantine Palace was a truly commendable fantasy debut for author Stephen Deas, who I interviewed last year. While the tag line for the first novel given by Joe Abercrombie "A fast, sharp, ruthless read" could still be applied to the second book but just in a different dose, there's something more this time that caught my attention.

The Red Riders have appeared, heralding a revolution to come. In the Adamantine Palace, Zafir is ruling mercilessly. As she calls for a council of kings and queens to condemn the actions of Queen Sheriza and King Valgar, Jehal gets bored. Longing for his wife back home, he will try to stop the upcoming war before it begins. The commander of the Adamantine guard, Vale Tassan will have to take part in the action even though his role demands of him that he remains on the side. Meanwhile, the white dragon is out of his slumber and will stalk the land in search of brothers and sisters to free. On her back is Kemir, still oblivious of all that is happening to him.

Even though the first book was not fundamentally lacking in term of characterization, this is the element in which the follow-up is more distinctive. Jehal was and is still the gem to be found beneath the tale of dragons, yet, there's the addition of the Night Watchman, Vale Tassan. Deas mentioned in the interview that it was one of his favorite characters and I can understand why. The guy is blasé (less so than Jehal), full of himself in term of military might with his Adamantine guards and is viciously challenged morally because of his unbreakable allegiance to the speaker entity but not necessarily to the person itself. The man internal struggle is unceasingly compelling, a thrill to follow. Suffice to say that I would enjoy his downfall into the mouth of a dragon :)

As I noted, Jehal steal the show. He participates in much of the action after his brief episode of boredom. Since there's no definite evil mastermind in this work, aside for a slippery blood mage, but a profusion of self-centered ambitious leaders riding fire breathing dragons, the tone is one of darkness falling on the kingdoms, destruction and mass murdering. In the first book, we experienced the political scheming and in King of the Crags, we live through the consequences. For those who grew to love The Adamantine Palace because of the crafty political games, you won't find as much in the follow-up. The book is an evolutive continuation (if I can say so), not a repetition.

In comparison with The Adamantine Palace, the story arc for the dragon(s), mainly Snow, is less considerable. The story probably couldn't have supported a faster development in the dragon liberation. However, the free thinking ones may not have all the ground for themselves but their brothers make up for it. The battles including a plethora of dragons with their riders and scorpions make for something quite vicious and expeditive. Jehal dresses a confusing portrayal of the action from within and from high up in the air, making me believe that this is the kind of chaos that would arise from skirmishes between dragons.

I've already said that Snow felt less central in the whole plot, but her moments with her "useful food", Kemir the ex-mercenary now free-minded dragon rider, were a blast. Their relationship as awkward as it can be is well handled. This is where much of the intriguing debate about dragon life in a human world takes place. Since I think this is the author goal to explore this question, I will admit that its a task nicely going toward completion.

The speedy pace is slowed just a bit. Some of the protagonists have more time to develop (Meteroa - Jehal uncle, Jehal himself, Jaslyn and Tassan as examples) and I felt there was a decrease in term of number of PoV switches, which I appreciated. The writing is still sharp, right to the point, without being excessively extravagant and just harsh and biting enough to give it some edge. In this again, an improvement for Deas.

However, the descriptive aspect of world-building felt forced at certain occurrences. At the beginning of a couple of chapters, there's a page or two where a protagonist is looking at the landscape and describing his surroundings. A nice effort by the author but just slightly lacking in subtlety. I'm pretty sure he could have found a better way to integrate this in the narrative. Sadly, the epigraphs with the portrayal of dragon breeding and attending are gone. Nevertheless, the background history, the increase in blood mage presence (something that with the mysterious Taytakei could be even more developed), dragon mythology and perspective compensate for these small lacks. Still a step in the right direction, significantly better than in the previous book.

Just one last comment, I'm really not sure about the title. The King of the Crags is an important part of the story but enough to deserve the book title? Anyway, the book is a pleasant read, an unforgiving (some heads will roll) and fascinating novel that will make you eager for more.

Technically, as with TAP, Gollancz came up with a great looking cover. The book stands at 384 pages and a finely detailed map was included, thanks Mr. Deas! Bring on The Order of the Scales, I'm hungry for dragons eating useful food!

The King of the Crags
review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 7.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 /10
Story.............................. 8 / 10
Writing........................... 8 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Stephen Deas page


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