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The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

01/05/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus

Buy The Adamantine Palace in the USA - or Buy The Adamantine Palace in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 347 page enlarged paperback. Price: 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08374-5.

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I like it when you get a book that you find yourself completely immersed in. You find yourself almost besotted. You open it up, read the first chapter and bang, real life is boring, irrelevant and petty. This is the world now and be it filled with good or evil, it's a bloody improvement on hearing about the Iraq war, footballers sex lives and the constant unending threat of annihilation through global warming.

That's how I felt when I opened up The Adamantine Palace.

Within the first chapter you've had a near sexual encounter thousands of feet up in the air atop a dragon and a very brutal murder.
Sounds vicious.
It is.
That's the way it should be.

Following the courts and royalty of the Realms, 'The Adamantine Palace' is a no holds barred look into how awful characters can be. They are evil. They are sordid. They are completely self-centred. All of them. That's what makes this book.

On top of this, we have the dragons. I hear your sigh, I know how repetitive and unexciting dragons can be. It's probably only a matter of time before they get bastardised in the same way as 'Twilight' has done for vampires.

They'll say that they don't breathe fire, they breathe nice shiny petals.
Shiny vampires? Ha!

So until this happens fear not. Much in the same way Robin Hobb's dragons were brilliant (they came from trees!), this story takes its own twist on it. Drugged and held in check by a special ministry, the dragons are currency. They are how the nobles keep themselves in their positions of power and how they keep the people down. The drugging helps to keep them under control and stops them from returning to their savage ways. It also makes them stupid, closing off access to their intelligence and psychic abilities.

The dragon aspect of the novel is extremely well-written and thought out. They are weapons, they are transport, they are slaves and, above all, they are kept in check through a formula that the nobles have very little knowledge of. Throughout the novel, the dragon system is added to through the inclusion of laws of dragon breeding and how a noble would go about gaining a dragon.

The inclusion of the nobles lack of knowledge surrounding the dragons is a great insight into their spoilt and viciously naive nature. So when one goes missing and starts to revert to its natural ways, the Realm goes into a kind of silent panic. The white dragon is a wedding gift and a massively important political tool and its disappearance heralds dire results for the noble society. No one knows who caused the dragons disappearance, who has commandeered it and no one wants anyone else to know that they know the dragon is missing. It's an unsubtle secret that subtly corrupts the characters and fuels the Machiavellian paranoia that permeates the novel. You are left guessing who is responsible throughout, regardless of the fact you follow said dragon in the company of the barbarians.

Cycling round this point, the novel works on its society in a deft and beautiful manner. The factions who have an interest in the dragon and the Realm start to plan. It's a thing of twisted beauty, watching the schemes, plans and deaths unfold.

Everyone covets power. Power over the dragons, each other and the Realm and they will stop at nothing to gain it. The novel's cast is wide and varied, each as bastardly as the next.

Queen Shezira was the trophy wife of a now dead king. She has now taken his place and is marrying off her children in order to secure alliances. As one of the lesser evil characters throughout and her uneasy alliance with The Speaker of the Realms, an ageing king-like figure is shaky and superficial at best.

Whilst the courtesans plot and pillage, the two barbarians, Kemir and Sollos, find themselves hunting a dragon that neither of them wants to find.

Then we have the vicious princess and her lover, the wonderful Prince Jehal. Undeniably, the star of this novel, he is like a sex-obsessed Steerpike blended with Captain Arturo Quire from Moorcock's 'Gloriana'. His wit and intellect, coupled with his selfishness, drives the political intrigue of the novel, his plots involving sexual manipulation, poison and razor edged cynicism.

He's a piece of work but he's brilliant. Despite his actions, I found him endearing and ended up rooting for him throughout over most of the good guys. I say good guys but I feel I must put in a point, no one in this novel is your usual good guy. Everyone ranges from evil to evil. There is no black and white, just grey and black. Maybe some brown, too.

Unfortunately, this book focuses on only one character that is not of noble heritage and this hinders the building of the world outside of the noble courts. The scenery is dealt with briefly and is clearly a thing of beauty but expansion would be a plus for an understanding of the Realms. On saying that, the lack of world building, not that it is bare - it isn't, helps to add to the insular and life consuming society that the nobles live within. Its importance to them ironically blocks out the real world, even though the control of it is what they are cutting throats for.

With a marvellous sweeping prose, a twisting plot and a lead character that is both venomous and awesome, this novel screams out for attention it rightly deserves. It's a novel that clearly acknowledges its debt to the dragon sub-genre but is so strongly plotted through its characterisation that it pushes itself up into the realms of high political fantasy to threaten the likes of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan. Sure it may be lacking a blight but it does have a super-powerful and super-pissed off dragon rooting for mankind's destruction. Hopefully the sequels, it's the first in a trilogy, can expand and add to this brilliant start.

Ewan Angus

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