Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Legends of the Dragonrealm by Richard A. Knaak

Legends of the Dragonrealm by Richard A. Knaak is an omnibus containing the first three books of his original series, the Dragonrealm; Firedrake, Icedrake & Wolfhelm. I was first introduced to Richard A. Knaak through his early work on the Dragonlance books, specifically The Legend of Huma. I enjoyed his Dragonlance work so I looked forward to his Dragonrealm’s creation.

In general my reaction to Legends of the Dragonrealm is mixed. My primary issue deals with what exactly is the Dragonrealm series. Is it epic fantasy or sword and sorcery serial? The omnibus attempts to straddle the two and I feel that this weakens the whole. The first two books, Firedrake and Icedrake are a continuous story that starts out in a familiar epic fantasy feel. A young man, Cabe Bedlam, with a mysterious past suddenly thrust into the role of savior all. Along the way he collects a romantic interest, befriends people in high places and becomes the most powerful magic user in generations. Predictable but enjoyable none the less.

The third book is a shock as it completely shifts focus, choosing to thrust a supporting character from the first two books, the Gryphon, into the limelight. The Gryphon embarks on a quest to solve his mysterious and forgotten past and ends up saving the world. This book drops any epic fantasy pretense and moves firmly into the realm of sword and sorcery. The Gryphon is a jack of all trades with a mysterious past and first and foremost a master of survival against all odds.

Aesthetically, these three books should not have been sold as an omnibus. It is a disjointed collection and the three books do not really fit together. The first two books are an obvious pair and the third is just sort of tacked on. However, that is the fault of the publisher, not the author. But it does highlight the style confusion of whether or not the book is epic fantasy or sword and sorcery.

The narrative works much better as a sword and sorcery serial. The first two books, Firedrake and Icedrake make a pretense at epic fantasy but do a poor job at it. Character development is threadbare and the romance is laughable. Action, plot and setting more than make up for the lack of character development. As shallow as the characters may seem, the plot is convoluted and full of surprised. The action is non-stop. The settings are varied and if not original, interesting.

The omnibus really picks up steam with Wolfhealm. At this point most of the epic fantasy pretense is dropped completely. The character development is minimal and there is an emphasis on adventure and plot. The plot is wildly convoluted with red herrings to keep you guessing until the end. There is action and magic in spades. Its a very successful sword and sorcery novel.

Overall, I think the weakness in this omnibus is due to Richard A. Knaak discovering his own style. The three books contained in the omnibus were among the first books Knaak had published. I think the first two books, Firedrake and Icedrake, represent and effort by Knaak to write his own epic fantasy. By Wolfheam, I think he had a change of heart and instead embraced sword and sorcery. It is obviously something he is better at. The omnibus finished strong and I hope that trend continues as I would like to read more in the Dragonrealm series.

Simon and Schuster: Legends of the Dragonrealm by Richard A. Knaack
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1439107003