History and the Family Epic: David’s Review of Dragon Prince

Album I’m listening to today: Lisa Gerrard’s Immortal Memory
In the backpack: Sunrunner’s Fire by Melanie Rawn and The Splendour that was Egypt by Margaret A. Murray

I got to Melanie Rawn along a strange path. My first exposure to her books was through the cover art: particularly the cover to Sunrunner’s Fire. That Michael Whelan painting is still nicely etched in my memory. I wish I had read Dragon Prince, the first book in this trilogy, in high school (and I hereby date myself by letting you know that’s when it was published). Though I’d already started working with some of the characters and ideas that would become my first still unpublished book, Neophyte, I wasn’t reading much fantasy in 1989.

I wish I had. This book definitely seems to be from a different age of writing: it has a lot description and detail, particularly in the realm of colors. I was struck by her detailing of the clothing and colors, which is nearly overdone at points. I think she veers into romance territory often, but a lot of the darkness I find (okay, and write) in fantasy, isn’t to be found here. The most brutal acts in this book didn’t resonate for me. I didn’t shudder with concern for the characters, and well, maybe I’m being a little too harsh.

If you have read Isabelle Allende’s House of Spirits, you know epic family history can be a powerful device in fiction (though to be fair, House of Spirits is magical realism, and down the street a ways from traditional fantasy). My friend Brian, who recommended Dragon Prince, hinted that the first book is a large amount of buildup, that a lot of its events won’t bear fruit until the second novel. After nearly 600 pages, I’m not sure the payoff is going to be worth it.

Front loading is a big issue for me in books lately. I need to get my review of Blood King up, but it turned my attention to this problem that I hope I can avoid. Dragon Prince follows an older style of epic, whereby all the players are set in position and slowly introduced before any action comes to bear. Summoner did a good job of getting right into the thick of it, while its sequel, Blood King really takes a while to execute its plot.

Dragon Prince makes one other crucial mistake: it tells a lot of important deaths and details, rather than showing them. To cover such a wide range of time and so many characters, this was probably necessary, but it definitely robs the book of a lot of impact. I’m glad I read it, and it was compelling enough that I’m working my way through the other two books in the trilogy, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve already been drawn to it.

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