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: Mass Effect: Andromeda: Initiation

Dem colons doe.

While I’ve been a long-time fan of Warcraft and StarCraft’s tie-in fiction, I’ve rarely paid much attention to tie-in books for other franchises. However, I remain heartbroken over the lack of DLC for 2017’s best video game, Mass Effect: Andromeda, so I decided to give its related literature a shot.

Cover art for the Mass Effect: Andromeda novel InitiationThe first Andromeda book, Nexus Uprising, is all about, well, the Nexus uprising, which was by far and away the least compelling part of Andromeda, so I gave that a pass, but the next one, Initiation, seemed a good pick: The story of how Cora joined the Initiative.

It’s not what I expected, but I don’t regret the purchase.

I was hoping for something meditative and character-driven. What I got was more like a buddy cop movie starring Cora and SAM as they investigate the theft of some of SAM’s source code.

It’s a book with some rough edges. The prose is a little dodgy in spots — exclamation points outside of dialogue are a serious pet peeve of mine — and the pacing and overall structure of the story are a bit whacky. It’s definitely shorter than I’d like, and feels a bit rushed.

But it’s fun. It’s fast-paced, there are some memorable action sequences, and while this isn’t a very character-driven book, what character moments there are are well done. SAM, Cora, and Alec all feel like the same characters they were in the game, and their speech patterns are captured well.

Initiation does help to make Cora’s rabid Asari fangirlism seem a little more sane. It’s a less case of her being that obsessed and more just that’s the culture she’s spent much of her recent life immersed in.

If you’re looking for some nostalgia, there are also more than a few nods to the original trilogy, including an appearance by a familiar face… though not necessarily a face you would have wanted to see again.

Don’t expect any big reveals, but there are also some tantalizing hints about the origins of the Andromeda Initiative… and the ulterior motives behind it.

So, yeah, it’s an enjoyable book. I’ve read some tie-in novels that were genuinely amazing and powerful pieces of literature, and this isn’t one of them, but I’ve also read tie-in books that were just shameless cash grabs with nothing interesting to offer, and Initiation definitely isn’t one of those, either.

It’s not DLC, but it’s better than nothing.

Overall rating: 7.2/10