I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to writing this. Something about the second part of a trilogy just says “repeat yourself, repeat yourself, plot summary, wait for the third book”.
Yet despite that first impression, there’s really a wealth of differences between Song of the Dragon and Citadels of the Lost. It’s still the story of a group of escaped slaves of various races pursuing an ancient prophecy, hoping that it topples the evil Rhonas Empire, and it still features the Rhonas Elves as the main antagonists. Only now there are dragons, and Soen, the Elf hunting Drakis and his party, is edging his way toward being a protagonist more than an antagonist. While there was always an element of trust and suspicion involved, here it’s been promoted to main character status. Even after the action is all said and done, there’s always the question of who did what, whom betrayed whom or did anybody at all, and why?
Part of this is because of Soen’s promotion to a relatively main character. While he still doesn’t interact with Drakis’s group, we follow him along on a quest to find Drakis, as well as being forced into becoming a fugitive himself. He has little intention for Drakis other than to turn him in for more prestige and to prevent him rallying enemies of the elves, but considering he’s joined a group of Drakis’s supporters (led by a fervent supporter of Drakis’s from the first novel) and is forced to lead them to victory against the army he’s supposed to support, while that army is now hunting for him… well, we’ve all seen story arcs like this. When Drakis and Soen finally meet with drawn swords, will they be pointed at one another, or at their mutual foes? I guess that’s for Blood of the Emperor to tell, isn’t it?
As far as Drakis, Jugar, Urulani, Ethis, Mala, the Lyric, and a few red shirts’ story goes, they continue on a quest, this time heading back South to civilization, and learning about the prior relationship between the humans and the dragons before the arrival of the elves. We get to deal with dragons who are lying about other dragons betraying other people, supposedly honored artifacts being passed along as methods of tracking, a woman that 90% of the party is convinced can never be trusted again manages to surprise everybody, someone is betrayed twice by the people they trust the most… you get the pattern. This is a suspicious novel, and you have to stay on your toes at all times while reading it if you don’t want to miss it.
As for the execution of this, well, some of the twists can be seen a mile away, some come out of nowhere, and altogether it can be pretty exhausting. I wouldn’t call it bad, per se, but it keeps the book from being a casual read and can really stint the action at times. I’m reminded of the latter Lords of the Ring novels, in which the betrayals and political maneuverings were often nothing more than distractions from the actual, interesting story.
Beyond the story itself, this is more The Two Towers than Empire Strikes Back. You learn some about the characters and a respectable amount about the mythology of the world, but ultimately we’re more concerned here with the voyage and what it means for the future than the past or the characters. Their traits have essentially been defined, and most if not all of the characterization we’re faced with here ultimately serves as a reminder of those traits rather than expounding upon them. Few of the individuals here trust one another, never mind being entirely open with one another. Our perspective being limited to the thoughts of the protagonists being described, the reader is often as in the dark as the other characters and I can only hope that we are granted exciting reveals to match the frustration of trying to figure out what’s going on.
Two questions remain unanswered in this review: is the novel any good, and do I recommend it? In fact, I already answered those, although you would have to know my opinions of other classic works to be able to discern that. The Empire Strikes Back, I feel, is a masterpiece that is best viewed in the context of a trilogy but remains a gripping and emotional story in the hands of any viewer who might experience it. The Two Towers, on the other hand, is a valuable story only in the context of its own trilogy, requiring a sense of the adventures, the gains and losses that came before it, in order to give it a sense of scope and the characters their depth.
Like The Two Towers, Citadels of the Lost is an invaluable part of its own story, but without the entire epic, I cannot on good faith recommend it. Too much would be lost in attempting to view only the middle chapters of this story. However, to the point that I have read it, I do recommend the Annals of Drakis, and in so doing recommend Citadels of the Lost once you have read Song of the Dragon.