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The King Of The Crags by Stephen Deas

01/01/2011. Contributed by Ewan Angus

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pub: Gollancz. 396 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08378-3.

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I loved ‘The Adamantine Palace’ by Stephen Deas, it was filled with relentless brutality, intelligent murders and big, bloody awesome dragons. It was a great start to a trilogy that promises so much. Now the sequel, ‘The King Of The Crags’…it was even better.

Following on immediately from the events in ‘The Adamantine Palace’, the Realms are slowly falling into chaos. Princess Zafir has become the Speaker of the Realms, think emperor with a little more power than kings, a kind of a royal referee and is using the position to act upon all her enemies. Of course, this isn’t how she is meant to use the position so it leads into even more problems for everyone.

Whilst this goes on, the escaped White Dragon Snow has returned to her full form of consciousness and, put bluntly, has a bone to pick with humanity. Probably everyone’s if she gets the chance. She thirsts for revenge against mankind who have kept all of her kind in a drug-addled stupor for hundreds of years. That’s not all, it’s an ensemble affair, with almost all sides of the conflict covered.

As Zafir runs the Realms into the ground, most of the other princes, princess and people in power plot. There is double-crossing, revenge, murder, sex and right in the middle of it all is Prince Jehal.

He is brilliant. One of the most complex, twisted and ultimately human characters I’ve read all year. There are no heroes here, just who you choose to support. Hell, you could support none of the characters and this would be still be a fantastic read.

Jehal’s uncle Meteroa is expanded upon and becomes a partner of his nephew in the unending struggle for power. Lystra, Jehal’s wife, is pregnant with his heir and spends most of the novel avoiding assassination whilst her sister, Jaslyn, attempts to come to terms with the loss of her beloved dragon and the knowledge that they are more than they seem. On top of this, the many royal cousins who vie for power find themselves, maimed, murdered or used.

The dragons themselves are beautifully rendered. The gradual failure of mankind’s hold on them is slipping and it is paced perfectly. The world is going to hell and Deas has complete control of it. He has an awe-inspiring control of this world and describes it with a prose to match. He has tightened the writing since the first and the plot has exploded into something that seems uncontrollable as there is so much going on yet he keeps it together on the page.

So, as the plotting and the murdering goes on, a good few of the cast meet untimely ends. It’s a real testament to an author who can build up these characters, make them believable and make you care about them, then bump them off without a moment’s hesitation. No one is safe, and I love that.

The world-building has been improved upon since the first with the inclusion of a map. I love a good map, it makes it more personal and believable. Plus it’s great to be able to get your bearings in a fictional world and the detailing of the world is more prominent.

This is all very well but it’s even more impressive when you realise the majority of the novel is set in the sky or in the bed. The world-building is in the background, as that’s all it is in this novel, but that’s ok, it still works marvellously.

When I think back over what I’ve read this year, I’ve read a good few books, but I’m hard pressed to find one I enjoyed more than this one. It’s got a shameless brutality to it, its murders aren’t just murders, they are works of art. Its characters are sordid bastards who are only out for themselves and all of these things are wonderfully endearing. It’s got a brilliant story than envelopes and drags you into it and pays off with an ending that moves all the pieces on the board round into unexpected places. A perfect way to kick off the series finale, which is out in May.

Ewan Angus

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This book has 75 votes in the sci-fi charts

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