‘Spine Of The Dragon: Wake The Dragon’ is book one in a new epic fantasy serial by prolific writer Kevin J. Anderson who has written more than 140 books, many of them in the ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Dune’ universes This is an entirely new and original setting and all his own work.
Some background information first. It’s on the inside flap, so this is not a spoiler. The god Kur created a planet ages ago and also made the wreth, a race of powerful sorcerers. Then he discovered a flaw in his creation and put all the hate and evil into the form of a dragon called Ossus which he buried under a chain of mountains, at least according to legend. To be honest, there still seems to be quite enough hate and evil left in his world. The god Kur then commanded the wreth to destroy the dragon and left, promising to come back when they had done it. The wreth split into two factions and warred among themselves. In the course of this war, they created humans to be servants, soldiers and slaves. Then they vanished for two thousand years, so the humans left behind assumed they had just wiped each other out. They and the dragon are almost legends when the story begins.
Meanwhile, humans have risen to create a mediaeval civilisation with castles and cities, trade and tariffs, warriors and war. Among the best warriors are Bravas, with half-wreth blood, carefully conserved by breeding, who have some magical ability. They all dress in dashing black outfits and have a warrior code, strictly enforced. Elliel is a female Brava with her memory erased for a dreadful crime, now forced to make her own way in the world. The wreth wars drained the land of magic, but intrepid settlers went to another continent a while back and founded a new nation, Ishara. It still has magic and, by blood and belief, they can create powerful godlings and, unfortunately, a priesthood to organise the process.
On the old continent is the Commonwealth, divided into three kingdoms: Norterra, Osterra and Suderra. In chapter one, the wreths come back. Sandwreths come out of the desert after a storm at Bannriya, the capital city of Suderra and tell good King Aden Starfall that they intend to continue their war and want humans to help them. While he’s struggling with this crisis, his Uncle Kollanan, the King of Norterra, encounters Frostwreths out of the north. They slaughter a whole village and build a mighty fortress on the spot.
Meanwhile, a port in Osterra is raided and ruined by a godling enhanced force from Ishara led by the ambitious Priestlord Klovus. He’s setting up a war with the Commonwealth even though Empra Illuris wants peace.
Kevin J Anderson introduces the cast chapter by chapter, slowly builds up the big picture and sets up future conflicts. He writes efficiently. Introduce the character by name, adds a brief description of physical attributes and their purpose in life. He does this skilfully and it’s a good thing to do, fiction writing 101. In some ways, his prose reminds me of James Michener, who worked in a different genre but also preferred a big canvas. Anderson is first and foremost a writer of commercial fiction and gets the story across.
Like most 500 page epics, it sagged a bit in the middle or maybe I sag a bit in the middle but, after that, all the elements were in place to gallop or at least trot to a climax. There is a vast cast of characters all engaged in much activity with several plot twists along the way. One fault I found with his ‘Dune’ books is that there’s hardly anyone to like in them, but this adventure does have several sympathetic people. Anderson does enough to keep you reading.
Along with the action, there is an underlying philosophy. While Isharans have their godlings and temples, the Commonwealth people have the notion of legacy. Humans, created by wreths, have no souls, no afterlife and no religion. Therefore, the only way to mark your existence is to leave a legacy, either heirs or some great deed or monument. Written records are important as a way of remembering that dead people once existed. In a way, this idea is perpetual and people will always seek fame and celebrity status or at least some record of having been. ‘I exist!’ we all shout. It’s a human need. One way to do it is to write a load of novels.
‘Spine Of The Dragon has a rich world with an exciting history and a great cast of wreths, humans, Bravas, dragons and godlings. These giant fantasy tomes provide entertainment and escapism for a large audience including, on this occasion, me. It’s easy reading. One flaw with these epics is that by the time part two comes out, one may have read other things and forgotten the plot. Fortunately, the sequel ‘Vengewar’ will be published in January 2021 and even my poor memory should work until then. I look forward to reading it.
(pub: TOR/Forge, 2019. 526 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $36.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-30210-6)