Sunday, May 16, 2010

REVIEW: The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Title: The Adamantine Palace
Author: Stephen Deas
Paperback: 369 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (19 Mar 2009)
ISBN-10: 0575083743
ISBN-13: 978-0575083745
Genre: Fantasy
Series: First in series
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought myself

There will be flames.

The power of the Realms depends on its dragons. Jealously guarded, nurtured by their handlers, ridden by the aristocracy, they are bred for hunting and for war. But only the alchemists and the mysterious liquid they administer to the dragons stand between the Realms and disaster; for without the liquid, the dragons would be returned to their natural fury: unbiddable, terrifying, awesomely strong, able to destroy an entire army, to burn a kingdom to ashes.

Prince Jehal is thinking of other things. Of power over all the Kings and Queens of the Realms; and he is prepared to charm, lie, betray, plot and murder to get it. Nor is he alone in his ambition. Queen Shezira has her daughters and she means to use them as she herself was used, to gain the ultimate prize, marrying them off to secure her influence and power.

All sell-sword Kemir is thinking of is money. Of freedom from the un-ending arrogance of the dragon riders. And maybe of a little cold revenge against the warlords who both need him and despise him.

And now a dragon has gone missing…

I have had a soft spot for dragons since first reading the Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey in the 1980’s so I picked up The Adamantine Palace based on the cover and blurb on the back. I was not disappointed. Indeed, for a debut novel, Stephen Deas has produced the fantasy equivalent of a blockbuster movie… impressive.

A blend of political intrigue and fiery action, The Adamantine Palace breathes new life into the dragon trope. Here we are introduced to dragons, their basic nature suppressed by alchemy and bred by the aristocracy for hunting and war. They are given as wedding gifts, viewed as status symbols and used to back up the political machinations of their owners. But when the white dragon, Snow, goes missing, she is no longer being given the alchemists’ potion and soon she is communicating telepathically with her minder, the Scales Kailin. She is fully sentient and aware of her true nature. She wants to free the rest of her kind from their oppression.

Prince Jehal is a minor Prince with grand aspirations. He plans to be Speaker of the Realms and will let nothing stand in the way of achieving his ambition. Like a renaissance Borgia, he plots and conspires, murders and poisons with charm and panache. He is an amoral playboy but also someone who held my interest from the prologue. His relationship with Zafir is a significant part of his powerplay, even though she is pursuing her own ambitious agenda. His only weakness would appear to be the unwelcome feelings that develop for his new wife, Lystra. The privileged lifestyle of the aristocracy, complete with the arrogance of long held political power and dominance over the dragons sets a scene where rebellion is ripe.

Being the first in a series, The Adamantine Palace introduces us to its world. While not overly descriptive, I found there is sufficient detail provided to allow my imagination to fill in any blanks. However, I would have liked to see a map, especially as there are various kingdoms and eyries mentioned throughout. The family trees were a helpful addition, given how many players there are in the court political arena. One interesting point, which I hope will be furthered in future books, is the role of the Taiytekei. We know they want a dragon hatchling of their own, and they are allied with Prince Jehal, but will they play a more prominent role at another stage?

But most of all I loved the dragons! As the effects of the liquid potion wear off Snow, a rare white dragon, begins to dream of how her kind were before the alchemists learned to tame them, she wants to free her species from the control of humans. She communicates telepathically with her human companions thus revealing her intelligence and her anger at what her fellow dragons have become... mere transport vehicles used for hunting and war but also as prized possessions to be distributed at the whim of the ruling elite. We also realise that the dragons, if weaned off the alchemical potion, could decimate the land and all the people within it.

The Adamantine Palace is an action packed read. Short chapters, with alternating points of view, set a cracking pace from the outset. The language is vibrant with dialogue that moves the story briskly along, yet revealing the levels of political machinations throughout. I would have liked some more background to the royal families, but this may be revealed later in the series, as the next book The King of Crags, refers to a royal that keeps himself hidden away from the other Realms. Certainly the scene is set for a sequel as there are several plotlines to carry over. I want to know what Jehal plans next and who will be left to oppose him. Will Snow continue with her mission to rescue the dragons from a half-lived existence among their human owners? I, for one, intend to find out very soon as The King of Crags has been published.

Rating 8/10

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