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Dragon's Treasure

by Elizabeth A Lynn

(Tor, £7.99, 407 pages, paperback, first published 2003, this edition published 29 April 2005.)

Review by Meredith

cover scanThis is a sequel to Elizabeth A. Lynn's Dragon's Winter, and it suffers from a bad case of sequelitis. It is very clearly a middle book in a series, and makes practically no concessions to a new reader. Lynn doesn't give quite enough of an introduction or explanation for her previously established characters. She seems to expect readers to know and remember from the previous book both the characters and their often complex relationships and motivations.

Several SF or fantasy series still allow for individual books to be complete in themselves. They can be part of a series without being just part of a story. This, however, seems very much part of a greater tale. It has a good, tense beginning, but no real ending, and just leaves us in the middle of events. It is almost as if Lynn has just picked on any old cliffhanger to decide where to end the book. This has an unfortunate effect, because one of the particular plot developments where she chooses to end the book is clearly meant to be deeply important to the series. But, in the context of this one book it is almost irrelevent.

Overall, the book leaves too much unresolved, which will presumably all be sorted out in a future book. Some totally new elements are introduced, especially the wider political webs of the world, so perhaps there will be grand political schemes in the next book. However, there is no sign of whether this is meant to be a trilogy or a longer chain of books.

Gripes over, this is an extremely well-written book. Elizabeth A. Lynn has not written as many novels as her talent deserves. As far as I know, her total before this series was only the acclaimed three fantasy books which make up the Chronicles of Tornor (The Watchtower, The Dancers of Arun, and The Northern Girl) and an odd, sado-masochistic SF, A Different Light. Her writing is powerful and intense, almost in the ranks of literary fantasists such as Ursula Le Guin. She can effortlessly draw the reader into her fantasy worlds. And in just a few, sparse words she can easily draw a picture or paint a sympathetic character.

She uses the full range of her ability in Dragon's Treasure. The plotting and pacing is just right (except -- see above -- for the ending!). Her new characters and settings are skilfully introduced, and she creates plenty of expectation.

Initially, the fantasy setting of this book hints at feudal Japan or China, with warlords, barons, dukes etc all-powerful within their own lands, shifting patterns of allegiances, and a high king so distant that, to all intents and purposes, he and his laws might as well not exist. However, it would be a mistake to jump into what looks like an obvious comparison, for while some characters have Asian-sounding names such as Reo Unamira or Kojiro Atani, others are descended from the Celtic fantasy tree with names such as Lyr or Coll. Still others have Nordic names -- Fenris, Nils, or Italian-sounding names -- Sorvino, Eccio.

So this is an unspecified fantasy world. Here, the lords of Dragon Keep have had feudal control over their province for time immemorial, and some members of the House do actually have the ability to turn into dragons. The shapeshifting is often caused by a fit of anger, which is unfortunate since a dragon's nature is fierce and angry to start with, and in dragon-form the lord is often hugely destructive. The family has very forgiving people: their dragon natures are always accepted, even admired, as part of the way the world is.

Karadur, the dragon lord, is only one of the main players in this book. Two of the others are the barely grown-up grandchildren of the local robber baron, who annoys the dragon lord just too far, calling down upon himself the famous destructive dragon temper. Left to fend for themselves, the woman, Maia, becomes a healer and eventual mistress of Karadur. Her brother, Trion, continues his career as an outlaw himself, until captured by the dragon lord.

The books covers topics of redemption, self-knowledge, growing into power. Karadur is not growing gracefully into his role. He is arrogant and demanding and self-indulgent, only redeemed by his deep love for a few, a sense of honour, and by his ability to draw the loyalty of his people. Trion has most to learn about respect for self and others, companionship and loyalty, and is redeemed even at his most vicious by his loving support for his sister. Maia, on the other hand, doesn't have to learn much except how to survive.

Although it is so open-ended, it is still a satisfying book, since Lynn can so easily draw the reader into the web of relationships and situations she is creating. For the sheer joy of reading a good writer, Dragon's Treasure probably deserves perseverance, even if, as a new reader to the series, you start out having no idea what's going on!

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