Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shadow of Black Wings (James Calbraith)

The Shadow of Black Wings
(The Year of the Dragon series, Book 1)
James Calbraith
Flying Squid
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Just out of the Academy, young Bran struggles to determine what to do with his life. He has little magical aptitude, and his loyalty to his undersized dragon mount, Emrys, limits his career options as a dragon rider. The last thing he expected was to follow his oft-absent father onto the seas, seeing the world from the deck of a magic-powered ship... but an unusual encounter leads him to a strange legacy left by his grandfather, items obtained from the legendary, isolated realm of Yamato halfway around the world. Seized by an obsession, Bran cannot rest until he unravels the mysteries of the artifacts and sees this lost domain, and its elusive dragons, for himself.
In Yamato, an ageless empire finds itself on the brink of disaster. Though the all-powerful Mikado and other Edo officials try to pretend that they are well and truly isolated, that the world beyond their nation is of no concern, the winds of change can be felt throughout the land. A young priestess with fiery hair and the samurai-trained daughter of a disgraced noble house, one of the few in Yamato to study the ways of the barbarian Western wizards, soon find themselves at the heart of their island nation's looming power struggles.
As ancient darkness wakes and long-forgotten dangers roam freely, East and West are about to collide.

REVIEW: The blurb at Amazon boasts how this series has been compared to Tolkien, an implied seal of excellence praising Calbraith's intricate fantasy world. There is, in my experience, a fine line between building a world and boring a reader... a line that this book all too often crosses. Clearly, the author has constructed an intricate, elaborate fantasy Earth, based loosely on global history and heavily infused with various magicks. Unfortunately, explaining this world to the reader often takes precedence over presenting an interesting story or sympathetic characters. Even cutting out the history and magic lessons, the plot moves at a glacial pace, starting with a cliche (the bullied boy at school with a distant, distinguished father whose shadow smothers him) and building to a non-event ending, not conclusive enough to let this book stand on its own yet not interesting enough to count as a proper cliffhanger. I saw glimmers of promise through the fog of names and nationalities and other clutter, but never felt a connection with Calbraith's world or his characters... and neither proved engaging enough to convince me to spring for Book 2.

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The Temeraire series (Naomi Novik) - My Review
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Serpent of Time (Eugene Woodbury) - My Review

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