by Margaret Weis, fantasy (2004)
Tor, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34390-8
Margaret Weis' second non-Dragonlance solo foray without her usual writing partners Tracy Hickman or her ex-husband Don Perrin kicks off with Mistress Of Dragons, the first book in what seems to be a series about two siblings destined to change the world. Or something. This book is actually more like a prologue detailing the events that lead to the birth of the two siblings, one human with dragon magic and another a half-dragon.
Set in the fantasy world of Dragonvald, this world is a place where magical and powerful dragons coexist with humans. The dragons keep to themselves, letting the humans discover technology and do their own thing. But sometimes there are dragons that view these humans as pawns in their quest for power, and this is what happens when the dragon Maristara decides to give herself a kingdom. She conspires with another dragon to "save" the kingdom of Seth from "evil dragons", thus earning the gratitude of the people. She makes herself a goddess, called the Mistress of Dragons, and thus rules Seth over the years. Seth becomes isolated from the rest of the world. Where science thrives elsewhere, Maristara breaks the laws of her kind and teaches her people dragon magic.
Today, a young dragon, Braun, manages to get the other dragons to consider his suspicions that his father was murdered when the latter got too close to learning Maristara's secret. The walker Draconas (a walker is a dragon who is born to human form, although he can change his form into a dragon when he chooses) is sent to find a way to penetrate the defenses of Seth for a Secret Plot. Meanwhile, in Seth, it has been widely believed that dragons are evil and Melisande, the High Priestess who serves the current Mistress of Dragons, is facing the responsibilities of a lifetime. A dragon has been sighted and the Mistress is too sick to assume her duties in protecting the kingdom. She has to do it. This puts her right in the middle of the Secret Plot.
I am really enjoying this story at first. The world building is pretty good and I really like how the author inserts gay-friendly elements into her story (Melisande's lover is the woman warrior Bellona) without turning them into soapbox material or gratuitous sleaze. But as the story unfurls, I actually become increasingly disconnected from the story.
The biggest problem here is that the characters are recognizable retreads of characters past that have made Ms Weis' career. Draconas is the watered-down version of The Death Gate Cycle's Haplo, but what makes him repellant where Haplo is a good antiheroic character is that Draconas is, frankly, more useless than a fourth pinkie. His behavioral pattern is to stand by helplessly and lamenting that he has failed his companions. This pattern is repellant because some of the ordeals Melisande is forced to endure under his inept watchfulness are brutal indeed. It gets to the point where I really want to introduce the sharp end of a cleaver into his skull when he laments for the third time that he has failed Melisande, right after a particularly brutal ordeal Melisande has to endure. Unlike Haplo who is distant, cynical, and so damned cool because he can actually do things, Draconas is whiny, useless, and can't back up his cynicism with kick-ass action.
Draconas' companion, the king Edward, could have been interesting as an idealistic foil to Draconas but the character's state of underwritten flatness means that Edward comes off instead a flighty, thoughtless, fickle, adulterous fool. If I'm his wife, he will find a more welcoming reception in Maristara's den. Melisande is also underwritten, coming off as a helpless victim relegated to being a brood mare.
The author's formula is becoming obvious too. It's to be expected, perhaps, that the dragons will represent some Big Brother government that sacrifices human rights for "the greater cause", whatever that cause is. Eventually the humans will revolt against the dragons. Maybe the author will surprise me, but I'm already feeling like I've read this story before and it's just the first book in a new series!
But in the end, I'm still interested in finding out what happens to the two siblings. Call me a sucker but for all her weaknesses, Ms Weis has one strength and that is telling a story in a manner that reels me in and has me wanting more even when I am aware of the flaws in the story. Mistress Of Dragons is much better than the recent Dragonlance books by her and Mr Hickman but the underwritten characters and familiar treatment of the plot are already showing signs of wear and tear.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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