It shouldn’t take more than a few pages for a book to capture the reader’s imagination.
With this book it took me 5 pages.
Margaret Weis is a legend. Without her and Tracy Hickman we wouldn’t have the Dragonlance. Just for that, all role players out there owe her an immense debt of gratitude. However, it would be a mistake to think that Dragonlance is all that Weiss is well known for, or even good at. Margaret Weiss Productions is a terrific company with excellent products that keeps receiving good reviews.
When I received the draft that would later become the final publish, I was somewhat apprehensive. The last book I read by Weis portrayed dragons as not very intelligent and, quite frankly, it veered so far away from my vision of dragons that it put me off. That is not to say it was a bad read, it’s just that it didn’t resonate with me.
Shadow Raiders takes a different approach to dragons, I am pleased to say. They retake the throne of the majestic creature’s catalogue and they do it very well.
Wait a second… I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start from the beginning and the synopsis.
The story takes place in Aeronne, a world in which Magic is part of everyday life in such a way that without it the world can barely function. Continents and land masses are floating masses in a gaseous material called “The Breath” and which is said came directly from God’s breath. Needless to say, The Breath is Magical in nature.
When Sir Henry Wallace receives a seemingly indestructible pewter tankard, events to uncover the mysteries behind such a unique, and rather impossible, item begin to unravel.
Stephano de Guichen, former Lord Captain of the Dragon Brigade and only son of the powerful Countess of Marjolaine, is hired by his mother to investigate the disappearance of a seemingly unremarkable Magic crafter. As the leader of the Cadre of the Lost, he and his band of adventurers, Dag, Miri, Gythe, Rodrigo and the Doctor (no… not THAT Doctor… this one is a cat) set sail in the Cloud Hopper to carry on the mission without knowing about the epic events about to take place.
Father Jacob Northtrop, a powerful member of the feared Arcanun, accompanied by his Knight Protector Sir Ander Martel, and Brother Barnaby investigate the massacre of a hundred nuns at the Abbey of Saint Agnes, whilst hunting for the mysterious and psychotic figure known as the Warlock, responsible for many crimes.
Before they know, The Cadre of the Lost, Father Jacob, Sir Ander, Brother Barnaby and two old dragons get caught in the middle of a battle with the demons mounted on horse-sized bats that seized the Abbey of Saint Agnes and slaughtered the nuns in their search for some mysterious books.
And this is where the adventure begins!
This is the start of the synopsis and, to tell the truth, it doesn’t do the plot any justice.
This novel is full of intrigue, machinations, politics, secrets, struggles, deceit… and everything is held together extremely well.
The writing is lovely. Although it is very easy to read and understand, Weis and Krammes haven’t held back in their use of English. Old words are aplenty and used so extremely well you’ll want to start using them in your everyday speech (I know I have!). However it does so without being pedantic or artificial. It is very good to see how seasoned and very experienced writers can pull of those literary tricks and make their work all the better for that.
The characters are truly excellent. Their idiosyncrasies perfectly portrayed. The psychology behind each and every one of their character is very coherent with their past experiences and their family ties, as well as their beliefs and ethics. This makes them very easy to relate to them and get to like them as people, creating a good emotional connection with the novel.
Special attention has been paid to fashion in this book. All the characters receive extremely detailed description of the clothes they wear and why. Terrific for those who think in images and like to “see” the characters.
The use of Magic in this book is very original. Magic is no longer for the few, but it is for the masses, though few can control it, few can craft it and even fewer can master it. This makes it accessible, but still mysterious and appealing, and not taken for granted.
The use of the traditional concept of God as an omnipotent creative force has been nicely twisted to keep the Christian similarities to a minimum. Yes there is a heaven and hell, priest and nuns, angels and demons, but that’s where it ends. In Aeronne, God is the source and origin of Magic. Thus, it becomes a part of everyone’s life. Clever trick indeed!
Also interesting was to read how the authors have taken archetypal traits associated to various countries and applied to the characters. For example, someone called Valazquez (no matter that the Spanish surname is Velazquez) will be impulsive, passionate and noble. People from Freya will be quietly sensitive but cold, calculating and ruthless in the outside. The Trundlers live in nomadic boats and have fame of thieves, with strong family and clan ties.
All of this makes for an extremely cohesive world with well-defined societies, customs and traditions, as well as factions. The eternal struggle between state and clergy is evident throughout with no reservations.
There is one thing I didn’t like about this book, and I will say it without any reservation. The cover.
I didn’t like the style and don’t particularly like the composition. The thing I disliked the most, though, is that the artist completely disregarded the description of how Stephano rides a dragon given in the book. Last, but not least, it doesn’t portray the might and proportions of the dragons compared to the hell bats.
The rest I loved!
This novel is lovely to read and the level of detail given to the characters and the societies where they live, as well as their history, theology and geography, make for a credible and congruent fantasy world.
This could, dare I say, should become the next “Dragonlance” for Weis. The level of detail, the originality and the background has been so well set up, that many novels and books could come out of this in the years to come to keep everyone perfectly happy.
The one thing I would have liked to see a bit more of is descriptions of the locations. Although they are given and they’re good, I would like to see more attention paid to the landscapes, flora and fauna of the world, rather than concentrate on the particular locations where the characters are located and not their surroundings.
This book is highly recommended, though, and I can’t wait to read Volumen II.
I am happy to award this book 4 out of 5 stars.