Dragon Fate by J.D. Hallowell is the first book in the War of the Blades trilogy. It bills itself as a “classic example” of a heroic fantasy adventure, and details the seemingly-chance encounter between a dying dragon and an aimless young man that results in the birth of a dragon who bonds to the young man. Together, the young man and baby dragon grow and develop in skill, knowledge and power – just in time to save the world.
The cover is excellent and evocative. The author’s style is relaxed and fits the genre pretty well. Nothing stands out as a glaring problem in terms of style. I think it suits its intended audience in this way, despite other minor problems. The author would have greatly benefitted from using an editor for this book; typos abound, as well as minor formatting issues such as using thought italics on both internal monologs and the connecting text between thoughts. The page formatting is off at the very beginning resulting in a huge whitespace, and a short acknowledgement section at the bottom of a page with one line carried over to another almost blank page. Still, these are not severe issues and I was able to chuckle and move on without feeling it was unreadable.
The nations described have verisimilitude. They seem pretty well developed in terms of culture, history and conflict points. This is done better than in most fantasy settings, in fact. The history of the region is tightly wound into international relations and the various cultures, and creates believable rivalries and grudges.
Additionally, the author goes into great detail about dragons – their care and feeding, physiology, and so on. They, too, are tightly wound into the history and current events. He borrowed elements of both Dragonlance and Pern but put a refreshing spin on things. It does not feel like a rehash of tired tropes.
The system of magic used is likewise a fully-realized and well-integrated component of the setting. He provides a perfectly serviceable rationalization for magic, and it too is a core factor in history, culture and current events.
Between the tight history, believable and detailed nations, and thorough treatment of dragons and their place in history and current events, the setting of the book pops out and I really had a sense of the place and its people. I give the author very high marks for his setting.
The main character, Delno Okonan, starts out presenting himself as an aimless young adult who was very good at very little. But as the book progresses he is revealed to be a war hero from a recent border war, a highly capable leader with excellent (but not superhuman) fighting skill, and the respect of a nation. I found this progression a bit jarring. I think perhaps the author began writing without a clear view of who the character was, and then Delno morphed into what the story needed. Near the middle of the book his development as a character feels complete and his personality and motivations seem to have stabilized. This is very much like a new TV show where the characters haven’t quite found their feet yet. Nonetheless, Delno is a likeable character and the author’s writing skill salvaged what could have been a bit of a disaster with the characters.
The other main character of the book is Delno’s dragon, Geneva. She’s a bright young thing, and she and Delno share a connection that is stronger than that of most “bonded” dragons and their humans. This strength of bonding causes her to grow quickly due to the magic involved, and by the end of the book she’s on the cusp of being a mighty dragon indeed. She is fiercely defensive of Delno, but has her own personality. I enjoyed reading her parts and the author gracefully manages to avoid Geneva being overshadowed by Delno, without alternately overshadowing Delno. Well done!
Unfortunately, I thought many of the lesser characters in the book were a bit one-dimensional. This may be due to the strong focus on Delno and who he is as a person, but I found it distracting. The short version is that the other characters exist almost entirely as plot devices with little more character depth than a bridge or a castle. I hope that future books in the series broaden these supporting characters a bit. Also, as with many fantasy novels, in this book good guys are GOOD(tm) and bad guys are EVIL(tm). In the case of Delno it is because of a pretty well developed philosophy on life that he firmly adheres to, but this isn’t the case with most of the other characters. For example, the main villain of the book seems to reveal his hand a bit prematurely simply because he’s such an evil jerk, thereby allowing the hero and his loyal allies to figure out the villain’s schemes and react decisively, resulting in an easy win for the good guys.
I was, at first, very disappointed with this. The book is billed as a heroic fantasy adventure, but this isn’t really the case. Throughout the first book there is very little physical conflict and most of what little there is seems to exist solely to develop the main character as a competent fighter.
I stopped being disappointed when I realized that the author took most of the first book to do what many fantasy novels do in the first chapter, which is, character and setting development. The focus of book one of the War of the Blades series is solidly on fleshing out the people, history, cultures and events of the setting, and on very thoroughly developing Delno and Geneva’s relationship and personalities. Another reviewer referred to this as a “slice-of-life” fantasy novel, and that’s an understandable view. Only a small section at the end finally reveals a major threat to their way of life and society, a confrontation of ideologies that puts the world in turmoil.
The threats to the world, physical, social and political, are established. The characters are developed into the people they will be when facing the upcoming challenges, which seem severe. The history of the world is laid out in a compelling fashion, and the connection of the past to current events (both to nations and to the main character) is clear and believable.
So, ultimately, the plot of the first book is very clearly to set the stage for the second book. In terms of conflict within the book, the only real challenge occurred toward the end. While I felt the Big Bad Guy showed his hand prematurely, the resulting conflict is well executed and certainly furthers the aim of the book, which seems to be to clearly set the stage for the second book.
However, I never felt like putting the book down and there weren’t any portions I felt I was slogging to get through. It was an easy page-turner.
This was a good book that earned the time I spent reading it. I enjoyed it very much and, while it is not a classic example of heroic fantasy, the sequels may capitalize on the groundwork so enjoyably laid in this book. The author writes well enough to pull that off, certainly. I’ll know if the promise is fulfilled when I read the other books in this series. I definitely will be reading them and, in the end, that’s the best thing one can say about book one of any series.