Dragon Forge (book, James Maxey, 2008)
From Death Ray 14.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
Here be dragons! Lots of the scaly bleeders. So many, in fact, that the beggars need taking down a peg or two…
James Maxey’s world of tyrannical dragons and downtrodden humanity seems original, until you think of Anne McCaffrey. Her Pern books, fantasy through and through in tone and intent, are also built upon a solid SF world concept. But these similarities do not mean Maxey loses points, indeed, he’s managed what McCaffrey did, making us hungry to unravel his mysteries. In this genre, that’s the battle fought and won.
As revealed in the precursor book Bitterwood, three kinds of dragon rule what appears to be a far-future Earth, with the massive Sun Dragons top dogs, and ‘magic’ provided by nanotech relics.
This second book in what we assume is a trilogy sees the world poised on the brink of change. The dragon king Albekizan is dead, his plans to exterminate mankind undone. His son Shandrazel has decided to establish a Commonwealth of races. But uniting so many belligerent factions isn’t easy, and trouble is brewing in the mountains…
Maxey’s book provides the perfect template for the modern fantasy novel. A massive cast of inter-related characters demands multiple story strands, we’re presented with different perspectives on each player, most of them go through a transformative arc, and there’s a balanced amount of inner-voice musing to further round them out. The world is well-constructed, its mysteries revealed in dabs of well-timed exposition. There’s a love story, a cute kid, and a talking pig. There’s probably few others who write in the book’s ‘let it all hang out’ fantasy style, either.
Capable may sound like we’re damning Maxey with faint praise, but he is, and extremely so. The mix of SF/ fantasy does not always convince, and the novelty of the dragons wears off when you realise they are all too human. But Maxey keeps the pages turning. If we allow that there are difficult books, this would be exact opposite. Easy does not mean rubbish, however, and if you want a bit of well-crafted, mass-market fantasy, different enough to be interesting, though not to be actually different, you could do worse.