Chris Bunch, |
(Orbit, 2002; Roc, 2005)
Chris Bunch's Dragonmaster, originally titled Storm of Wings, is the first volume of his Dragonmaster trilogy, issued in trade paperback by Roc. It is followed by Knighthood of the Dragon and The Last Battle.
As always, Bunch has created a solid universe and a good adventure story. Hal Keilas, the son of a tavern keeper, comes upon Nanopean Tregony, the son of the mine owner who also in all essential regards owns their village, torturing a dragon kit. He rescues the kit, with some damage to Tregony, and then finds it expedient to leave town. After wandering for a while, he takes hire with a traveling dragon show, learning to care for the beasts that are used to provide entertainment for the brave and well-to-do. Ultimately, as war looms, he joins the army of Deraine in the dragon corps -- aside from entertainment, dragons have military use in reconnaissance.
Hall, as it turns out, is an innovator. Unlike most of the officers in the Deraine army, he is able to learn from experience rather than blindly relying on precedent and custom. Fortunately, he has the support of the king. Dragonmaster is the story of Hal's rise as the war escalates and, due in no small part to his efforts, turns slowly in favor of Deraine.
This is somewhat of a problematic book. Even considering that it is the first volume of a trilogy, it is somewhat sparse. Except for the sex, violence and profanity, it could be a young adult fantasy; it is fairly direct, characters are well developed but lack depth, and the plot is fairly predictable. Bunch's other books cast in the same mold, such as his Last Legion series, have been richer and more detailed.
One problem I had with the book is that things are almost too easy for Hal. The king's support obviously greases the way -- he starts off as no one and is a lord by the end of this volume -- but we don't really see enough of the king for it to have any reality; the titles and estates are almost a deus ex machina, and don't seem to be all that important to the story. The assumption seems to be that Hal's brilliant innovations are the cause, but there are so many layers of self-serving nobility in the way that one is hard put to get a real sense of the politics that should have been involved. (And strangely enough, Hal seems to make no enemies because of his rapid advancement. The enemies are all from other reasons.)
This is not to say that the book is not absorbing, although one has to get past the relatively slow start. There is enough action to hold the reader's interest (although the plot is a little facile), and Bunch gives some tantalizing glimpses of things that we hope will become part of the succeeding volumes, including the origins of the dragons themselves.
Fantasy is an area that covers a wide range of quality and substance; there are the significant works in the genre, written with subtlety and power, that make the top end of the range worthy of consideration as serious literature, and there are the many books that are, as most nonfantasy readers suspect, sheer escapism, adventure stories that make good reading without taxing the mind. Dragonmaster is firmly within this latter group, and as such, is a very good example. No challenges, but an enjoyable evening.
by Robert M. Tilendis