Man in Black Review: Song of the Dragon by Tracy Hickman (The Annals of Drakis Book One)

It’s been a while since I’ve read a pure Fantasy novel, at least one for review (War of the Spider Queen, I’ll get to you eventually).  Let’s take a look at this one, the first book in a trilogy, the third entry of which is released on July 3rd of this year.  I’ve got the first two books here, courtesy of Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews, so let’s see what I think of them before the new one comes out.

Drakis is a soldier, the equivalent of a Corporal in a multiracial legion led by Elves.  Let me go over the races in this world, because while they’re not so far off of Tolkien that you’ll be clueless, they’re far enough off that they bear some explanation.

Let’s start with the Elves.  These are probably the farthest off of Tolkien you’re likely to find.  They’re described as having elongated heads and very corpse-like appearances.  If you guessed that these elves are evil, you’re right in one.  The elves conquered the known world millennia ago, or at least years ago.  More on that later.

The dwarves are the last nation to stand up against the elves, but by the time we’re through with the first Act, Drakis and his Octian are part of the Legion that leads to their final defeat.  Dwarves are exactly what you know them to be.

Next we get manticores, which are in the unusual position of being one of the main sentient races of this world.  They’re exactly what you expect, part lion, part man, part eagle.  They’re big, able to fly, able to talk shit, and almost completely enslaved.

The oddest by far of these races is the chimerians.  While they may have an original form, they’re best known as shapeshifters, able to take the form of any creature.  Most lack the ability to change their skin into clothing, but Ethis, the one we deal with, has that ability, because it adds to the tension, or at least gives the other characters reason to distrust him and gives him reason to do things unexplained.

And… oh, the humans.  Apparently, the humans and the dragons were united as the rightful rulers of this land before the elves came in.  Now they’re little more than a curiosity, talked down and degraded even by the other slaves and found only in scarce numbers.

But the winners write history, and here’s where the true sinister strength of the Rhonas Empire lies.  They control the Aether of this world, making them the sole wielders- or at least, pretty close to it, as it seems the Fae and the Dwarves have scarce amounts- of magic.  This enables them to do things like having daily rituals, called Devotions, where everybody in a House, slave or otherwise, are subjected to magic controlled by the powers that be that influences their beliefs and memories.  Ever wish you could forget that stupid thing you said?  Well, if the person administering Devotions in your house shares that belief, not only could you forget you said it, but so would the person you said it to.  And all of the witnesses.

Now, I’ve been making mostly light of this, but upon discovering what the Devotions really are, this is when the novel gets deadly serious.  This is around the time that loyal warrior slave Drakis realizes that he gets regularly beat within an inch of death by his Master, Sha Timuran, only to be saved from death by Timuran’s daughter so that she can rape him while he heals, and then arrange for Drakis’s lover Mala to discover him “cheating” on her.  Yeah, that pretty much wiped the smile off your face, didn’t it?

For the rest of the book, we follow the newly formed adventuring party- Drakis, the warrior, presumed to be the Chosen One because he more closely matches a prophesy that hundreds of human slaves named Drakis mostly match, except for the part that they never escaped.  Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy; I have a feeling the next two books will reveal some sort of intelligence (perhaps The Wizard That Did It) planting the titular Song of the Dragon into the minds of human slaves named Drakis in order to convince them to fulfill the prophecy.

The quest is a mission to find the characters’ homes and backstories (their past), the relationships that will survive as they regain their memories of slavery (their present) and whether or not Drakis will fulfill the prophecy (their future).  As the quest is well underway, a new character and plotline is introduced, yet even Soen the badass Iblisi, who travels along a parallel quest in the traditional one man army style.  He’s not quite the sixth Ranger, (partially because the base Party consists of seven individuals) but he potentially could take on this role.

Altogether this book is filled with a lot of world-building and a lot of convoluted details.  These details don’t necessarily kill the story now, but if gives you the impression that you really hope it comes to a point in the sequels rather than resulting in the worst kind of padding- the kind that actually detracts from the main story if it doesn’t lead anywhere.

In between the plot, we get a lot of really cool action.  Most of this is with the Iblisi but it’s still interesting watching Drakis and the crew try to get their way out of certain situations.  Drakis is really the closest thing we have to an open book (unless you count Soen), and the lack of knowing who to trust or whose backstory is real lends a lot to the tone of the novel.  You’re in the dark a lot of the time, forcing both Drakis and the reader to sit back, stay on the DM author’s tracks and find out what’s ka.  Er, destiny.   No, seriously, you’re awesome if you’re not scratching your head right now.  Plot convenience like a wheel.

I joke, but in all seriousness I’m enjoying the ride.  It does feel like we’re on some strict rails, but that gives me faith that some of the more questionable things (ie, everything involving Mala or Ethis) are actually relevant and not just padding.  A story isn’t normally this tightly controlled, only to have padding like this added in after the fact.

Judgment reserved until I finish the trilogy, but so far it looks like it’s pretty good.  I can’t wait to dig into my copy of the second book and I definitely hope to get the chance to read the third.  There’s nothing to say that I won’t change my mind by the time I get there, but right now I don’t think that’s going to be the case.

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