Inverarity (inverarity) wrote in bookish,

The Adamantine Palace, by Stephen Deas

How can you love fantasy and not like dragons? They're kind of like vampires: everybody uses them, everybody who wants to make their mark on the genre tries to come up with a clever new way to use them, and usually they fail, so as a fantasy reader, you're inclined to roll your eyes at any book with a dragon on the cover. And yet, dragons are still pretty damn cool, when they're done right.

The Adamantine Palace is a mediocre effort in the field. It's not awful, like anything with "Dragonlance" in the title, but it's not great, like the first few books in some series that were pretty good until the author descended into hackdom and just started churning them out as reconstituted work-product. (What's McCaffrey's latest, Housecats of Pern?)

This wasn't a book I would likely have picked up normally, but the author did a good job of pimping it on John Scalzi's site:

The dragons in these books are monsters. They’re not cute, they’re not cuddly, and the only reason anyone gets to ride around on the back of them is because they are forcibly subdued by alchemical potions that are fed to them from birth. In fact, these dragons are so dangerous that for even one to break free could spell disaster for pretty much the entire civilisation (no prizes for guessing what happens pretty close to page one).

So you can, and probably should, read it as a straight epic fantasy with a cast of shady characters and a rampaging dragon that’s pretty ticked off about having been kept in a drugged stupor. I had no pretensions to anything more than a story about kick-ass dragons that ran on rocket-fuel when I set out to write these books; but sometimes when you sit down and write, you don’t get quite what you asked for.

Well, that sounded pretty cool. The idea of an escaped dragon being kind of like a missing nuclear warhead, except the nuclear warhead is sentient, and pissed off, appeals to me, and I was in the mood for a story that's "rocket-fueled" adventure, with dragons.

Did Deas deliver? A little yes, a little no, but mostly not so much.

So, the book is pretty fast-paced, as promised. There is a lot of action, there is much carnage and burning and dragons eating people, though it stays pretty limited in scope: no Reign of Fire-level apocalypse...yet.

The dragons were indeed interesting, or at least, the handful who get free of their drug-induced servility were. Yup, any sympathy you might have had for the poor beasts who've been drugged and enslaved as a species and used as riding beasts goes away once it turns out that, freed from their alchemical shackles, they're bloodthirsty predators who will happily burn human civilization to the ground and hunt the survivors like rabbits. (Okay, if you were an escaped dragon just waking up to the fact that you're an intelligent being who's been turned into a riding animal, you might want a little fiery retribution too, but from what we learn in the book, that's how the dragons treated humans before they were enslaved.)

None of the human characters are particularly interesting or likeable. Non-nobles in this world are nothing but spear-carriers. That's how both the nobles and the author treats them. Where the humans come on stage, it's mostly just a bunch of scheming, backstabbing nobles playing their reindeer games, and since they're all equally scheming, backstabbing, and non-sympathetic, and none of them will do anything different from the others if they wind up on the throne, we don't care who wins. The "protagonist" (inasmuch as this book has one), Prince Jehal, is clever, but whenever his cleverness isn't quite enough to make his schemes work, one of his opponents conveniently makes a mistake so that he wins anyway. He's an arrogant bastard, but none of his adversaries are any better, and most of them are worse.

The action-packed parts of the book are a decent read, but the worldbuilding is weak. Like so many epic fantasy novels do, TAP starts with charts showing the geneologies of all the various royal families, with lofty names like "The Queen of Sand and Stone," but all this means is that Queen Shezira lives in a desert. There are a bunch of royal families with rival kingdoms, making up an essentially indistinguishable mob of kings, queens, princes, and princesses, all of whom have dragons and dragon-knights and castles. The one foreign element is the Teitaykei, a bunch of vaguely Oriental traders who come from across the sea, and whom I assume will probably show up again in the next two books of the trilogy, but in this book, they existed solely to hand Prince Jehal a magical plot device.

The double- and triple-crossing is entertaining enough, but I would have liked more dragon action. Also, Deas uses an amateurish multiple-POV writing style throughout the book, shifting from one character to another in each chapter, and focusing on none of them. Some of the POV characters end up dying unceremoniously without ever having contributed much to the plot.

Summary: This is a book that people who still think AD&D novels are cool will probably like. For everyone else: if you really like dragons, then it's worth reading, but wait for the paperback.

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