Review: The Adamantine Palace
Okay, so let’s be up front. I’m completely jealous of Stephen Deas. Yes, it’s true, and no you can’t laugh at me because I’m not going to allow you to. So there. The largest portion of this jealousy stems from the fact that he lists K.J. Parker on his acknowledgments page. K.J. Parker. That nearly dropped me right where I was. At the bus stop. I’m also jealous of him though because Mr. Deas was one of those newbie authors with a humble number of publishing credits to his name, when one of the “Big Guys” over at Gollancz decided to ask him to write a book for them.
Not only was he asked to write a book though, he was asked to write a book about dragons. Dragons you say? Bah! Humbug! Cliché! Overdone! Boring! Exclamation point!
Um…no. So let’s get to it.
THE ADAMANTINE PALACE is the first of a trilogy of books (we’ve talked about this before, yes? Fantasy = Trilogy) set in the world of The Dragon Realms. Over each realm lords a king and/or queen, which each have their own set of dragons to use as they please. There’s an overseer of the conglomerate of kings and queens, the Speaker, who lives in the Adamantine Palace and is kind of the king of the kings, so to speak. Heh, heh. The job is filled by a prior king/queen that has given up the rule of their kingdom and is given to someone new every yea-many years. Also, a certain number of alchemists work in (but not for) each of the realms to keep the dragons tame and under the control of certain Dragon Knights, accomplished through the dragon’s diets.
The bulk of the story revolves around two main events, which are somewhat related through vague character connections but not by much else. The first deals with the transition from the current Speaker to a new Speaker, and involves much intrigue, politics, betrayal, and revenge. Prince Jehal and newly crowned Queen Zafir, secret lovers and ruthless players of the political game, are keen on gaining the prize of being Speaker for themselves. Queen Shezira has been promised the position. Speaker Hyram is old and sick (possibly being poisoned?) and is easily swayed by each party. Whose hands will the realms ultimately be placed into? You have yet to find out.
The second story-line revolves around the awakening of one of Queen Shezira’s dragons from its drug-induced tame nature and follows its subsequent outrage at being kept in such a state. This story-line is told in parts through the dragon itself, but “mostly” from the viewpoint of a sell-sword associated with the general area.
Mostly, you ask? Yes, my little one, please show some patience.
First up. Dragons!
The dragons in these books are towering beasts with unconscionable appetites for mass carnage, blood, violence…you get the picture. We’re not talking Temeraire (though there are times for such creatures to be lauded upon), we’re talking old-school, vicious, animalistic. These dragons, as compared to those in Temeraire, are the equivalent of interview-with-the-vampire vampires as compared to those sparkly ones that those here at EBR really don’t like to talk about. They tear into herds of cattle, boil river water in its bed with their fiery breath, and thrash knights in armor like my kid-brother used to after coming upon a group of my meticulously-positioned little green army men. But remember, all of them but one are currently under “command” of the Dragon Knights.
The story rips along at speed–with such short chapters there’s not much choice for it to do anything but. It’s entertaining, intriguing, and begins to set up a world that seems very much like one I’d enjoy spending time with. There’s a lot to love about this book: great writing, interesting characters, fairly detailed world, good history to it, and the thing starts in just the right spot–with change. On the whole, the journey from beginning to end was one that I’m glad I participated in.
A perfect book then, you ask? No. There are definitely down points. The first of which is the fact that there’s no real focus on character. The story is told from the viewpoints of way too many of them–around eight or nine if I’m remembering right. Characters that show up in the beginning disappear mid-book, some only get a chapter or two, others raise their heads midway and then fizzle into nothing. The most difficult character-related issue that I had though was that most of the few characters that do stick around through the book are pretty unsympathetic. They’re selfish and murderous, back-stabbing nearly everyone that they can for the express purpose of getting what they want. Okay, fine, but why should I care if they win or not then? The ones that I’d love to be able to know and understand just disappear, or they never really get started in the first place. The ending left a whole lot to be desired, but that was because there pretty much wasn’t one. Both storylines just kind of stop, with some minor conclusion to the one occurring inside the Adamantine Palace, but just mid-stream in the other. If there had been a better payoff and a more concise character focus this would easily have landed into the realm of Books We Like. As is though, the whole thing kind of fizzles in the end because of these problems.
So, is the book worth reading then? Absolutely. It’s fun, fast, and something you can sink your teeth into. Literally. (Though frankly if you do so to a book you don’t personally own, I’ll deny ever having suggested this.) If you’re cool with a quickly-told, decent story and can deal with all the myriad of insignificant characters, then you should probably pick it up. It’s not perfect, none are, and really it could have been better, but it’s good enough that I think a lot of people will still be able to enjoy it. Besides, I’m hoping that most of these problems will be avoided in the next book. I’ll definitely be waiting to find out.
Recommended age: 18 and up. Mostly because of the unanticipated sexual content.
Language: Yes. Occasional but regular.
Violence: Um…dragons? Not too much otherwise.
Sex: Way too much for what this book was supposed to be focused on. Frank language and discussion in several scenes, and mild interaction in a few others.
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