Powerful limbs, sleek bodies, leathery hides, strong snouts, block-long wings, jaw-dropping flames… there are many reasons to love dragons. I had my first taste of these fire-breathing creatures when I first read The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, with its humorously blunt dragon — though, admittedly, the idea of a sniveling prince and a heroic princess probably did more to spark an interest in an independent little girl’s mind. It wasn’t until my teens, when I stumbled across Anne McCarthy’s Pern world, that I fell in love with the scaly creatures.
I have picked up many a book about them since, and while each has individually been great in its own way, none have captured my attention for long. It was during a search for some schoolbooks at a local bookstore I came across Stephen Deas The Adamantine Palace. An appealing cover graced the novel: dark with a blueish-white dragon flying across it. Interest sparked.
In a world once dominated by dragons, humans now control the dragons’ minds with well-kept secrets of alchemy and potions. Kept under harness and tightly controlled, dragons turn into domestic creatures, no more intelligent than four-legged mules. This is, at least, until one prized white dragon manages to escape and regain his long-suppressed memories of a time when humans cowered in fear.
We have Prince Jehal, charming, handsome and vile. Ruthless in his ambition to gain power for himself, he betrays, lies, plots and murders to stay two steps ahead. There are moments where you see him slip and you think it’s possible for him to come back; that he can be redeemed. Then he turns around and makes you shake your head in sorrow. We also have Queen Shezira, poised with a strong personality, is not without aspirations herself. Not entirely sympathetic to the quailing of others, she uses her daughters as pawns for marriage alliances, as she was herself, to secure and influence her own power.
Add in a rogue dragon — full of intelligence and fury — bringing back the memories of his enslaved kind and setting the humans to warring and politicking and you have a fast-paced, brutal dragon tale.
Told through the eyes of several protagonists and minor characters, the book reads solidly. While focusing mainly on the conversion of power of the Speaker (an over-king position coveted for its power), his retirement and his heir successor as fought between royalty, Deas cleverly weaves underground passages in the narrative, allowing the dragon element to slowly come back in full force.
Each character is developed through ever-changing circumstances, becoming nastier, stronger, or more determined to seek vengeance. Deas constantly adds another layer, getting down to the gritty details. While certain aspects of this are welcome, the curveballs of supposedly strong females turning into whiny, spoilt princesses does make one wary. I understand the necessity of annoying, naïve characters in furthering plot lines. I do. But I wish there would be less of them.
I strongly detest weak (naïve, stupid, pouty) female characters. Females can kick ass too without being over-sexualized! Paper Bag Princess, come on!Aside from Queen Shezira and (at least near the end), her eldest daughter Almiri, I felt that in comparison to the number of women that were introduced, the number of strong women is sadly lacking. Grudgingly, if I include the evil, two-faced bitch Queen Zafir — who is too ambitious by far — the numbers are still dismal.
Granted, the male protagonists were equally upsetting.
I suppose this is why I enjoyed the book as much as I did. The Adamantine Palace reveals the coarseness of humanity in its sins and need for power. Deas manages to put life into each personality, and while at times I felt overly irritated with many of the characters and their self-entitlement, lust and greedy fingers, it all does point to the flaws of humankind and the troubles we put onto ourselves (as the history books full of destruction and war clearly show).
Overall, brilliantly written and an excellent read, and a wonderful set-up for the next installment. It isn’t McCaffrey’s Pern (nothing, NOTHING I SAY, will ever come close) but it is certainly the beginning of an outstanding new dragon series.
Oh, and go dragons!