Review: The Dragon Prophecy: Blade of Empire

It’s been a long time since the first book of Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s Dragon Prophecy trilogy was released. So long, in fact, that I had started to think the series had been cancelled for some reason. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, to find book two staring in me in the face as I perused the shelves at Indigo.

Cover art for The Dragon Prophecy, book two: Blade of Empire by Mercedes Lackey and James MalloryIt wasn’t entirely easy to get back into the story. After so long, I had forgotten a lot, and between the bloated cast, a relative lack of physical description, and the infamously over-complicated names given to Elves in this universe, it was hard to remember who was who.

That said, there is improvement in many of the key areas where book one faltered. While the issue of unwieldy names hasn’t entirely gone away, concessions have been made. For instance, much of the book focuses on a character named Runacarendalur Caerthalien, but mercifully, this is abbreviated to the nickname “Runacar” for most of the book. As well, a number of non-Elven characters are introduced, and they all have names that are far more manageable.

The pacing’s a bit better this time, as well. It’s still a bit of a slow burn, but not unpleasantly so, and it builds to a breathtaking climax.

Picking up in the immediate aftermath of book one, Blade of Empire sees Vieliessar struggling to plan her next move after attaining the High King’s crown at the cost of destroying Elven civilization as she knew it. Meanwhile, her embittered rival Runacar forges an unlikely alliance with the so-called “Beastlings,” the other races of the Light who have long been hunted by the Elves.

And in the depths of Obsidian Mountain, the Endarkened marshal their forces, for the time of the Red Harvest has come at last.

In case it wasn’t already clear, I enjoyed Blade of Empire a lot more than Crown of Vengeance.

Partly I think it’s a matter of timing. Lately I’ve grown a bit frustrated with the direction of the fantasy genre. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places, but these days it seems like the focus is more and more on low fantasy stories focused on backstabbing and political intrigue more than magic and wonder.

Blade of Empire isn’t like that. This is the high fantasy of all high fantasy. Not only are there no humans at all in this story, but a good chunk of the cast isn’t even humanoid. It’s a story that overflows with colour and imagination, unashamed of its wildly fantastical nature.

This is what I read fantasy for.

But also, it’s just a quality story. Not without flaws, as we’ve already discussed, but with great strengths to balance them out.

Something that the Dragon Prophecy series has been very good at even from the outset is presenting the mythic feeling that fantasy books often shoot for, but rarely achieve. This is a no-holds-barred story of the death of one world and the birth of something new — not unlike Genesis of Shannara — and it’s an incredibly powerful experience.

There is a common school of thought that holds that prequels are an inherently flawed form of story-telling, but I think this series is a great example of a story that would not have nearly so much power if the reader didn’t know what was coming.

There’s a sense of creeping horror running through these books as you watch the armies of the Light tear each other apart, leaving themselves all but defenseless, even as the Endarkened are preparing for the war to end creation. You want to scream at the characters to stop, to unite in preparation for the true threat, but you can only watch on helplessly as they race toward oblivion.

In the end, you’re left reflecting on just how futile, how senseless, war truly is.

Overall rating: 8/10 Book one took a lot of patience, but I think I can now safely say this series is worth it.

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Review: Black Panther

At this point, I think it’s well known that I don’t think that much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movies I’ve seen were all mediocre at best. But Black Panther did look to have some interesting visuals, and my friends kept pestering me about it, and I figured paying for a movie with this many black people was a good way to irritate racists, so…

An action scene from Black PantherSince I’m pretty much the last person in the Western Hemisphere to see Black Panther, it’s probably not worth bothering to summarize the story. I figure you already know.

I will say this much: Black Panther is easily the best MCU movie I’ve seen yet.

The thing I really like about it is it’s not really an origin story the way these usually are. T’Challa is already pretty comfortable with his powers and feels pretty well-established as a character. Maybe they already covered his origin in one of the many Marvel movies I skipped. I don’t know. Don’t care.

The important thing is that this allows us to skip the tedious origin story tropes Marvel always seems to cling to, and go straight to the real story. It’s a fairly long movie at nearly two and a half hours, but none of it feels wasted. It’s got a really good balance of character development, world-building, and action.

It’s a visual treat, too. While it’s not stated in so many words, the conceit seems to be that Wakanda’s isolation has allowed technology to develop in entirely different directions from the rest of the world, leading to some very unique and interesting gadgetry, such as vibranium-infused cloaks that can conjure force fields at will.

It doesn’t really affect the plot, but it does lead to some very creative art design.

It leaves me wistful for all the cultures and mythologies, all the stories and artistry, that have been strangled by colonialism. Western culture is full of beauty, too, but its aggressive dominance has cost the world so much…

The cast of Black Panther.Anyway.

Black Panther is also helped along by a very strong supporting cast — with the notable exception of T’Challa’s insufferable kid sister. My personal favourite was Danai Gurira as the badass, honour-bound General Okoye. Any chance she can get a solo movie?

I also quite liked Lupita Nyong’o’s character, though it’s a bit of a shame she was relegated to be little more than a generic love interest.

That’s not so say I loved everything about Black Panther. It leans less heavily on Marvel’s bad habits than I would have expected, but they’re still there. The humour is cheesy and often feels forced. The ending is a little too quick, too neat and tidy. And the cyber rhinos were a bit much.

The themes of the movie are pretty muddled, too. It seems to want to provide an aspirational tale for people of African descent — a most noble goal — but this is somewhat undercut by the fact that Wakanda is, at its heart, a pretty terrible country, being rife with xenophobia and controlled by archaic and oppressive forms of governance.

Perhaps the idea was to offer nuance — to make Wakanda not entirely good or entirely bad — but when it’s presented as an enlightened paradise half the time and corrupt and brutal the other half the time, the end result is only confusion.

Mind you, I’m not exactly the target audience for Black Panther’s messages, and it does seem to have been very inspirational to a lot of people, which I respect.

Either way, I didn’t go to a MCU movie for intelligent social commentary, and I will at least give it credit for tackling racial politics and the dark legacy of colonialism in a very blunt and brave way. That’s more than I expected.

So I wouldn’t say Black Panther is a masterpiece or anything, but it’s the first MCU film I don’t feel any regret over watching.

Overall rating: 7.7/10