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.

Review: The Dragon Prophecy: Crown of Vengeance

For some time now, Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory have been collaborating on a series of epic fantasy trilogies. These trilogies don’t share an over-arching title as far as I’m aware, but they’re all set in the same universe and are more or less part of an ongoing story, so I’d consider them all part of the same series.

Cover art for "The Obsidian Trilogy, book one: The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and James MalloryFirst came The Obsidian Trilogy. I loved it — it was a classical high fantasy epic comforting in its familiarity but memorable for its detail and strong execution. I was particularly fond of the Elves in this series, who were among the most intricate and alien interpretations of the archetype I’ve ever seen.

This was followed by a second trilogy called The Enduring Flame. This I found extremely disappointing. It lacked almost all of the action of its predecessor, and its pacing could only be called glacial. It did get interesting by the very end, but I see no good reason why it needed to be a trilogy rather than a single book.

Between that and reading several of Mercedes Lackey’s other novels — and being disappointed by them all — I wonder how I enjoyed the Obsidian Trilogy so much. Part of me wonders if I was just young and easily dazzled and that I wouldn’t be so impressed if I read it again, but I read it around the same time I got into Ian Irvine, and his work has lost none of its luster over the years.

But I’m veering off-topic. The point is that a third trilogy has now been added to this saga, The Dragon Prophecy. This one is a prequel, going back to the earliest history of the world. It’s a story only hinted at in the Obsidian Trilogy, the first war between the forces of the Light and the demonic Endarkened. It is the tale of the greatest hero of Elven history, Great Queen Vieliessar Farcarinon.

But in this first book of the series, Crown of Vengeance, Vieliessar is not yet the Great Queen, and her people are not the Elves we know.

At this point in history, the Elves are a divided people. For thousands of years, the Hundred Houses of nobles have been in a state of unceasing war with each other, each seeking to gain dominion over all others but never succeeding.

These ancient Elves are nothing like their descendants. They are not wise or gentle. They are a warrior people, longing to die gloriously in battle so that they may ride with the Silver Hooves of the Starry Hunt.

Art of Ancaladar and Jermayan from "The Obsidian Trilogy"There is almost nothing recognizable about their culture from the previous books, and to be honest, they don’t feel much like Elves. They’re as selfish, petty, and cruel as humans.

At first, I found this jarring, but I came to realize it makes sense. A core component is the Elven archetype is that they are very ancient, and they have outgrown the pettiness that plagues humanity.

So this is the story of how they outgrew their darker aspects. This is the Elves before they were Elves as we knew them. This is their transition to the wise elder race we know and love.

Vieliessar herself begins the story as an orphan without friends or allies, the last survivor of House Farcarinon. She is haunted by a mysterious prophecy that names her the doom of the Hundred Houses, and for this reason, she is hated and hunted.

It’s a pretty classical fantasy story, to be sure. If you’re looking for originality, you’ll be disappointed, but I found it fresh enough to still be interesting. The dark side of Vieliessar’s destiny adds an interesting twist.

Right away, though, there are some major problems with this book. One of the biggest is its names, which are absurdly long and virtually impossible to pronounce. If you thought “Vieliessar” was a bit of a mouthful, you should know that’s one of the easiest names to manage in this book.

Cover art for "The Dragon Prophecy, book one: Crown of Vengeance" by Mercedes Lackey and James MalloryIt’s always been established that Elves in this series have incredibly long and hard to pronounce names. It didn’t bother me before; it was a source of comedy relief, and since Elves were just one part of the story, it was tolerable.

But in this trilogy, the Elves are the whole story, and it’s just horrible. The authors don’t do anything to lessen the pain, either. Nicknames are in short supply, and to make matters even worse, they also make a point to include the incredibly long titles of each character with needless frequency, so the reader is constantly stumbling over names like “Astromancer Hamphuliadiel” and “War Prince Bolecthindial Caerthalien.”

Also, Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor. I’m just gonna put that out there.

Normally, I’d consider bad names a petty concern, but these are just so absurdly hard to manage that it constantly rips you right out of the story.

Mercedes Lackey also has the awful habit of coming up with goofy fantasy names for ordinary things for no good reason. We can’t just call them knights; they have to be komentai’a!

There are some other major stumbles, as well. While I’m pleased to say this is far from the “go nowhere slowly” story Enduring Flame was, the first half of the book is incredibly slow in its pacing, and you’ll need a lot of patience to get to the good stuff.

Crown of Vengeance is also very weak on the character front. This is quite surprising because one of the things that made the previous installments of this series so charming was the depth and strength of their casts. About the only thing that made Enduring Flame worth slogging through was the quality of its protagonists and their banter.

Crown of Vengeance has an enormous cast, but that’s the problem. There are so many characters that almost none of them ever get enough development to become more than a name on a page.

A map of the Fortunate Lands from "The Dragon Prophecy"The only exception — and the main strength of the book — is Vieliessar herself. Vieliessar is a fantastically rich character and one of the best reasons to read through the entire book.

A lot fantasy epics try to present a protagonist who feels like a legendary hero, but rarely do they succeed. Vieliessar is one of the very few characters I’ve encountered who is truly believable as someone who could completely change the world.

The interesting thing about Vieliessar is that she’s not particularly nice. She’s a hero with a very harsh edge. She is admirable in many ways — holding ideals of justice and equality for all — and her goals are pure, but she can be ruthless in pursuing them. She is never cruel, but she is harsh and relentless, and she does not shy away from the fact that her gleaming future can only be achieved by marching across the corpses of her many enemies. She’s inspiring and frightening in equal measure.

There are a few other bright notes, as well. I’m a big fan of the Endarkened. I’m not sure why — they’re pretty much just cliche world-destroying demons. But as cliche world-destroying demons go, there are none better (especially since Warcraft defanged the Burning Legion). They’re just so utterly and completely evil that you just have to love them.

And as is always the case with Mercedes Lackey, the world-building is impeccable. Once you get past the awful names, that is.

Overall rating: 6.9/10 A decent read despite its flaws, but if you’re not already emotionally invested in this world and its history, I’m not sure I’d bother.

However, I would recommend checking out the Obsidian Trilogy, and if you like it, then maybe give Crown of Vengeance a try.