Review: The Dragon Apocalypse, Cinder

It’s been many long years of waiting, but I’ve finally gotten my hands on the fourth and final book of James Maxey’s wildly original Dragon Apocalypse series, Cinder.

Cover art for Cinder, book four of the Dragon Apocalypse series by James MaxeyThis is a series with a strange history. The first book, Greatshadow, is easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read, but while the following volumes still had many strengths, the truth is it’s pretty much been downhill from there. That sounds harsher than I mean it to, but the fact remains that while I’ve enjoyed each book, I’ve enjoyed each one less than the previous.

Part of this is due to the strange structure of the series. Halfway through, the Dragon Apocalypse changed its main character and its entire writing style. It was a jarring transition I still haven’t fully adjusted to.

It also seems there has been some real world turbulence for the series. I’m not clear on what exactly the story is, but Cinder seemed to take an awfully long time to make it to market, and it’s now under a different publisher than the previous books.

The change in publishers definitely wasn’t an upgrade, either, as the quality of the product has taken a hit. I have never seen a professional novel with anywhere near this many typos.

But whatever the journey, Cinder is finally here now.

It is a book of inconsistent quality. Once again, there’s been a shake-up of perspective. Now the novel’s perspective shifts regularly between the series’ large cast of characters, and while many of these characters are familiar, a lot of attention is spent on a new character, the book’s namesake, Cinder.

Cinder is the daughter of Stagger and Infidel. Conceived in the spirit realm, she has skin as black as midnight and the ability to shift between the physical and abstract realms at will.

Cinder is one of my main problems with the book, because I find her fairly dull in comparison to most of the other characters. This is the same problem I had with Sorrow in the last book, though ironically by now Sorrow has grown on me and I would have liked to have seen her get more attention this time.

It should also be noted that the long gap between Cinder and the previous book left my memory of the series to date rather atrophied, and that also probably hindered my enjoyment of the story. In retrospect I should have reread the rest of the series first, but my impatience got the better of me, and I spent the first few chapters mostly trying to remember who everyone was and what was going on.

However, my biggest problem with Cinder is that it feels very, very rushed. In this fourth and final installment, the Dragon Apocalypse has come at last, the primal dragons of ice and storm uniting to destroy the world of humanity and plunge the world into an eternal blizzard.

Cinder deals with spectacular, earth-shattering events. It has a massive cast of characters whose stories need closure. And it tries to deal with all this in less than 300 pages. There’s just not enough time to give everyone and everything its due.

If ever there was a series that should have been spread out to ten or so books, this was it. The Dragon Apocalypse boasts one of the most brilliantly colourful and wildly inventive settings in all of fantasy, with no shortage of bizarre and awe-inspiring places, creatures, characters, and concepts. Four short books simply isn’t enough to do justice to the world or its story.

Still, I don’t like dumping on this book so much. Partly this is because I have spent some time speaking with James Maxey in the past (briefly, several years ago, over email), and I found him to be very humble and gracious and an all around good guy.

And partly there is still a fair bit to appreciate in Cinder. As mentioned above, the setting of the Dragon Apocalypse still offers no shortage of wonders. I love the concept of the primal dragons, immortal beings whose souls have fused with the fundamental aspects of the natural world, and Cinder more so than any of its predecessors shows off the terrible grandeur of the primal dragons.

There are also still many great characters in the story, even if Cinder herself didn’t blow me away. It was great to see Infidel back in action, even if her role was relatively small, and I’d happily read an entire series devoted to the adventures of the Romer clan. Seriously, Gale is awesome; can we get a book that’s all about her?

Cover art for the complete Dragon Apocalypse collection by James MaxeyAnd I have to say that I did really like how it ended. Without spoiling anything, I think there’s a beautiful poetry to the final conclusion of Stagger and Infidel’s long, bizarre story.

In the end, it does remain true that every Dragon Apocalypse book is less enjoyable than the previous, but it started from such lofty heights that even after four books, the end result is not bad.

Overall rating: 7/10

I do want to say again that despite whatever flaws the series might have developed after, Greatshadow is one of the best books I’ve ever read and something that is absolutely worth your time. It’s a hilarious, heartfelt, and brilliantly strange story that I can guarantee is not like anything you’ve read before.

Comfort Food + For Honor Thoughts

I’m not sure if it’s because of how dire the news has been lately or what, but lately I’ve been feeling less interested in seeking new sources of entertainment.

Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in ContinuumInstead, I’ve been revisiting old favourites. It’s sort of like comfort food, something warm and familiar you’re sure you’re going to enjoy.

Firstly, I’ve cancelled my Netflix/CraveTV subscriptions for the time being and dug out my DVDs to rewatch Continuum. I very rarely buy DVDs, as they are quite expensive, so the fact I have the entire series on DVD is a testament to how much I love it.

In a lot of ways Continuum is actually better the second time through. You can really take note of all the subtle bits of foreshadowing, and it’s interesting to see how things changed over the years. I totally forgot how cocky and lighthearted Alec was at the beginning. He’s almost unrecognizable as the character he became in later seasons. I’m also paying more attention to Garza, knowing what I know now.

Meanwhile, despite still having a couple of new and unread books lying around my apartment, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite StarCraft novels. Specifically The Dark Templar Trilogy by Christie Golden.

In a strange way I almost wish this wasn’t a StarCraft series, because few if any people who aren’t StarCraft fans are going to end up reading it. And that’s a damn tragedy, because it’s brilliant.

The Dark Templar books aren’t just good StarCraft books. They’re just straight-up excellent sci-fi literature by any standard.

A cinematic in StarCraft II: Legacy of the VoidThe trilogy tells the story of Jake Ramsey, a human archaeologist who has a chance encounter with a dying Protoss woman. But she is not just any Protoss; she’s a Preserver, with the memories of every Protoss who has ever lived stored within her mind. When she encounters Jake, her mind, with all of its memories, is downloaded into his brain.

The story is then split evenly between Jake’s struggles in the present and the memories of the ancient Protoss that he relives every night when he sleeps.

Now, I’m a huge Protoss nerd, so of course I find this fascinating, but I think even if you’re not as keen on the Firstborn as I am it’s still an excellent story. One of the most powerful scenes in the series — really one of the most powerful scenes I’ve read in anything — has Jake reliving the exact moment when the Protoss invented written language.

It’s an amazing scene because while the characters don’t know they’re laying the earliest groundwork for an empire that will one day span the stars, they do understand that they’ve discovered something profound, something that will change everything. There’s such a beauty and purity to the moment.

And of course the characters of the Dark Templar books are excellent, because this is Christie Golden and she always nails the characters. In retrospect I can really see how R.M. has inspired a lot of characters in my own writing in various little ways.

Honor duels:

Charging into battle in For HonorIn other news, For Honor launches today, and over the weekend I was able to dive into its open beta and see how it shapes up. It’s the subject of my latest article on MMO Bro.

I’ll say this much: It’s a very fascinating game, but I don’t think I’m going to be in a rush to buy it anytime soon.

Also, I keep wanting to spell the name with a U. A pox on American spelling!