måndag 15 oktober 2012

The Adamantine Palace

I've finally managed to sit down in some peace and quiet to type down my thoughts on Stephen Deas and his wonderfully crafted the Adamantine Palace. It's the first novel, and apparently debut, in a series titled Memory of Flames, but so far I've not managed to learn how many books are planned.
I have to say, from what I've seen so far, Stephen Deas' work this far in my reading experience is one of the finest debuts I've seen, though he's facing stiff competion when compared to Saladin Ahmed and his Throne of the Crescent Moon, even if they are very different in tone and style.
Deas has done a good job breathing new life into one of the most characteristic features of the fantasy genre, the dragon. Deas' breed have more in common with the dragons of Reign of Fire than most generic fantasy dragons, and we see a species that have to be kept tightly in check or they're likely to wrest control away from humanity.
Stephen Deas has a pretty direct and brutal style of writing that's reminiscent of Abercrombie, and even though in quite stark contrast with Erikson's intricate world and enormous cast I saw more of Erikson in Deas' writing than any of the other 'touted inheritors' novels that I've read so far this year.

A torrent of flames poured from the sky, swallowing the white dragon and her Scales in its fury. The river waters steamed. Stones cracked in the heat. Huros stood stock still. He was fifty, sixty, maybe seventy yards away. A little part of him that wasn't paralysed with fear noted that this was too close. At the last instant he turned his face away, as a wall of hot air and steam seared his skin and slapped him back towards the woods. He caught a glimpse, as he did, of the stranded rider, the one who'd been shouting at the Scales, catapulted into the air, snatched from the ground by the dragon's tail. Of the Scales himself, there was no sign.

Gollancz cover
Worldbuilding-wise and character development-wise I'd say Deas and the Adamantine Palace is somewhere between Glen Cook and Paul Kearney. It could definitely do with some added depth but it is a masterful debut that throws you into the action pretty much from the first chapter.

The book has a strong political intrigue with the known world divided into realms ruled by Kings and Queens with their will enforced by the now cowed and domesticated dragons. The dragons are bred for this specifically, carefully plied with poisons and chemicals from the politically independant order of alchemists. An unscrupulous young prince, Jehal, embarks on a mission to grasp control of all the realms as Speaker of the Realms and will stop at nothing to gain his goals.
His path is quickly littered with betrayals and murders and though a highly unlikeable character his chapters are a joy to read as they push the pace up bit by bit.
Standing against him are Queen Shezira and her daughters, Shezira herself grasping for the title of Speaker as well as Hyram, the current Speaker of the Realms. The Adamantine Palace has many twists and turns in the court intrigue and by the last few pages you've probably been led back and forth a couple of times.

Outside the court, but not far from it's influences the two mercenaries Kemir and Sollos do dirty deeds for one of the many intriguing factions setting themselves up perfectly for a seemingly impossible task. When Queen Shezira is marrying off one of her daughters with Prince Jehal as part of a political powerplay the bridal gift, a perfect white dragon, is stolen on it's way to Jehal's family keep. Kemir and Sollos are conscripted into guiding Shezira's dragon knights in their search for the missing dragon. With time though, without the alchemical intervention and far from the dragon roosts, the white dragon Snow is awakened from the drug-induced slumber that the dragons are kept in. And with her awakening, the fury and hunger of the species slowly rears its ugly head.

The book plays out at an amazing pace, and the reader is left with little time for in-depth characterization or wider worldbuilding but at a fully crammed 379 pages the book rarely suffers from this. I can imagine the series having to see some development both of the characters as well as the world into the next book, but Deas has left me fully expectant that he will be able to pull it off.

US Cover - Penguin

I am impressed by Stephen Deas' development of his own kind of dragons, both their history and their general characteristics lead to a wanting to learn more, and the small fact that they are seemingly reborn upon death is an intriguing idea. Kemir and Sollos was a great read for as long as it lasted, reminiscent of many of Erikson's epic pairings. And though Jehal is home to a host of dislikeable mannerisms he is one of the more interesting characters and mainly the one to push the plot on.

All in all Stephen Deas' the Adamantine Palace is a great read, all the more special for being the author's debut, with a crackling pace and no shortage of plot twists. There's room for development in both the as yet unseen King of the Crags, which coincidentally is the name of the next book, as well as the mysterious Taiytakei who we've only seen fleetingly so far. I'd definitely reccomend the Adamantine Palace as a must read.


REMINDS ME OF: Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold in that it is distinctly brutal with many of it's seemingly central characters as well as a story that is packed full of violence, sex and intrigue in equal measures. Daniel Abraham's the Dragon's Path in that it's a powerful first novel in a series that does a good job of putting down groundwork and re-working some of the usual tropes. A promising first that will hopefully lead to even bigger and better things in the coming work.

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