Monday, November 15, 2010

"The Royal Dragoneers" by M.R. Mathias (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official M.R. Mathias Website
Order "The Royal Dragoneers" or HERE(Kindle) or HERE(Nook)
Read an Extended Excerpt from the novel HERE
Read FBC Review of The Sword and the Dragon

INTRODUCTION: Not long ago I discovered M.R. Mathias, the author of The Sword and the Dragon, book that stayed in my memory despite seemingly being the traditional fantasy I tend to avoid; though of course there is a twist in the tale, but the crucial fact is that the author' style just resonated with me.

When I heard about The Royal Dragoneers, a more YA oriented series debut from the author, I was curious since occasionally YA books by authors whose style I like a lot also appeal to me. Here is the blurb, though I would say that it only partly reflects the essence the novel.

"After struggling for more than two centuries to tame the inhospitable, dragon infested Islands where they washed up, the descendants of the survivors of a lost passenger ship are now striving to tame the Mainland they have found. But the Goblin King, an Ivory antlered demon called Gravelbone, has a different plan for the men who are invading his territory. He and his Nightshade are rallying the trolls to defend their lands. With the help of the dragons, goblins, and orcs they plan on rendering the wall the humans have built useless, so that they can drive man back to the islands from where they came. When stubborn King Blanchard finally accepts that the kingdom really is under attack it may be too late, and the only ones who can save the people on the Mainland have been locked away in the dungeon Join some brave young men and their mentor, a grizzled old King's Ranger, and a particularly clever young magic wielding woman, as they traverse the wild frontier, and sail to King's Island to warn the King of the warring trolls. Then hold on for your life as you tear through the pages, because the pure blooded dragons they have befriended have another plan all together."

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Royal Dragoneers stands at about 350 pages divided into five named parts and 39 chapters. The narration is third person and from several POV's. There is also a map of the Dragoneers' Lands which you can find online HERE.

Jenka De Swasso
is a sixteen year old ranger's apprentice from the deep frontier lands who has an unexpected encounter with a dragon. Zahrellion (Zah) is a seemingly young looking and beautiful druida whose people tend to keep to themselves and study science and magic. Rikky is one of Jenka's friends who will have his own tale. Prince Richard, the popular dashing heir to the kingdom is seemingly the hero of a prophecy.

With a reasonable ending point, The Royal Dragoneers starts a YA-ish series of adventure, discovery and magic, written in the exuberant style of the author which is familiar from The Sword and the Dragon.

ANALYSIS: "Good" dragons, destined boys and girls, prophecies, princes, magicians (called druids) and witches with some of the funniest names in recent books like Linux and Mysterian, nasty demons, "bad" dragons, goblins, orcs, cackling villains and combat of the "my magic is bigger than your magic" type - all in a YA setting to boot; this seems another book I would run away as fast as I can from, but I actually enjoyed it a lot and read it in one sitting since it was very engrossing and I wanted to see what happens. I also reread it after to see the little things I have missed and get some clues where the action goes next. Why?

The major reason was the style of the author; hard to pinpoint the specifics but it just appeals to me and it makes me want to read his books. Luckily there is an extended excerpt (currently 36% of the novel) at the link above, so you can go and check it out for yourself. Narrative energy, earnest, likable main characters, a tone that is not ultra-dramatic or self important and a very well thought out world building are some of the conscious reasons that justify my statement above, but ultimately a lot depends if the book flows for you or not.

Regarding world building, little details that add up and show the carefulness mentioned are the number of generations from the shipwreck that populated the Dragoneers' Lands with humans, the rate of growth and expansion and its economic underpinnings, the historical memory or lack of such - 200 years is a long time too and much more plausible than the usual millennium or more that too often is thrown around in fantasies together with a steady state society.

Jenka may start as the typical destined boy, but he is modest and likable and he grows well into his role, while not becoming the know-it-all conquering hero that annoys me to no end in similar tales. The mysterious Zah remains, well mysterious, to the end of the book and I am curious to find out more about her and the druids and witches in general. Even the dragons have a twist or two, though you gotta read the book to find out about that.

Prince Richard and Rikky are less well developed and more "stock" to the end, but both bring their surprises too and the novel has the author's trademark twists on the traditional storyline and keeps one guessing where it will go. The action is fast and furious though from time to time it barely stops from descending into farce, when the "my magic is bigger than yours" becomes the sole reason for how the heroes escape this or that battle.

While The Royal Dragoneers (A) does not transcend its narrative space - YA exuberant adventure fantasy - it is a fun book that I heartily recommend if you want such and on par with anything from that space. The series has a lot of potential - there are geographical expansion hints, possibilities in the explorations of the world's magic, the whole dragons ecosystem that may offer surprises - and I am eager to see the next adventure M.R. Mathias will send our heroes on.

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