Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

Black Leviathan Cover

Publisher: Tor (Trade Paperback – 25 February 2020)

English Edition Translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Length: 331 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out 5 stars

Get ready for an exciting fantasy adventure from acclaimed German author, Bernd Perplies, with Black Leviathan, an extremely fun and inventive novel that is essentially Moby Dick with dragons.

Bernd Perplies is a best-selling German fantasy and science fiction writer who debuted in 2008 with his first book, Son of the Curse Bringer. He has since authored several different series, including the Star Trek Prometheus trilogy, which he co-wrote with Christian Humberg and which were the first Star Trek books licensed to be written outside of the United States. Black Leviathan was initially released back in 2017 in Germany under the title The Dragon Hunter, and it is the first book in his Sea of Clouds series. This is the first one of Perplies’s solo books to be released in English (his Star Trek books got an English releases), and it was translated by Lucy Van Cleef.

Welcome to the Cloudmere, a floating expanse of thick cloud, mists, floating islands and mountain tops high above the ground. Thanks to the magical kyrillian crystals, which allow anything holding them to float in the air, airships now also fly through the Cloudmere attempting to harvest the useful resources available in this harsh landscape. The most valuable of resources come from the dragons, the ferocious beasts that soar amongst the clouds and mountains. Various species of dragons exist, each with their own special talents and defences, and each of which are valuable in their own way. However, hunting dragons is a dangerous occupation, and only the bravest, the most skilled or the extremely desperate set out into the Cloudmere as a drachenjäger, a dragon hunter.

Lian is a young man living in the floating city of Skargakar. The city’s entire economy revolves around the hunting and processing of dragons, and Lian himself makes a small earning carving kyrillian crystals. Lian also looks after his father, Lonjar Draksmasher, a famed drachenjäger of yesteryear whose injuries have driven him to drink. But when Lonjar is murdered in front of him, Lian instinctively gets revenge on the criminal who killed him, and now needs to get out of town quickly or face the wrath of his victim’s father, the most dangerous crime lord in the city. Taking up his father’s magical hunting spear and accompanied by his best friend, Canzo, Lian seeks work aboard one of the many drachenjäger ships leaving the city. The only one willing to take them on is the infamous Carryola.

Boarding the Carryola they find themselves working with an eclectic and effective crew of drachenjägers, and Lian believes that he has reached relative safety. However, the captain of the Carryola, Adaron, has an obsession that may prove to be the doom of Lian and the rest of the crew. Adaron is determined to hunt down and kill the Firstborn Gargantuan, a rare Black Leviathan dragon, a creature out of legends and one of the most destructive beings lurking in the Cloudmere. Now caught between a powerful dragon and a crazed captain, Lian must find a way to survive, but he quickly learns that death is always lying just around the corner in the Cloudmere.

This turned out to be a fantastic and deeply enjoyable fantasy adventure novel which I had an absolute blast reading. Black Leviathan features a fast-paced and action-packed story of a group of dragon hunters flying around in the sky chasing after a mythical and gigantic dragon, and what’s not to love about that? Perplies introduces a ship full of distinctive and compelling characters (most of whom you shouldn’t get too attached to), including an obsessive and ruthless captain, and sets them up against a powerful foe. This results in quite a fun and exciting novel, and I enjoyed some of the intriguing directions that Perplies took the story. While some elements of the story are a little bit typical of action adventure novels, such as characters whose death is a foregone conclusion the moment you meet them, this was an excellent story that is extremely easy to enjoy, and very hard to put down.

One of the best parts of Black Leviathan is the clever and inventive new world that Perplies has created as a backdrop for his fun story. The author did an outstanding job producing a unique fantasy world up in the clouds, filled with all manner of sentient races, exotic locations and intriguing magical technologies, all of which prove to be really fascinating to explore throughout the course of the story. The Cloudmere is an amazing location for a fantasy novel, and I really enjoyed seeing an entire book spent up in the clouds, either in floating cities or aboard magically powered airships. However, the highlight of this new world has to be the various species of dragons that roam the Cloudmere and dragon hunters that chase after them. Black Leviathan features a world where dragon hunting is a vast and profitable industry, and it is really quite interesting to see the various aspects of dragon hunting and its subsequent applications within this novel. There are some obvious similarities between this fictional dragon hunting industry and the real-life historical whale hunting industry and was really cool to see Perplies reinvent this iconic historical trade with fantasy creatures, floating ships and a sea of clouds.

The dragon hunting aspect of the book also results in some pretty incredible action sequences. There are some really exciting and fun dragon hunting scenes featured throughout Black Leviathan and watching the crew of an airship attempt to take down a dragon in mid-air was easily some of my favourite parts of the entire book. Perplies came up with some very clever hunting techniques for his drachenjäger, and it was very cool to see all of them unfold, especially as many require the protagonist to jump onto the back of the targeted dragon and kill them while riding on their back. This fantasy world also has many different types of dragon with a variety of different abilities (some breath fire, some have sword-like tails), each of which results a different sort of hunt with its own range of difficulties. Of course, the biggest hunt of all is when they catch up with Gargantuan, the titular Black Leviathan, the largest and most powerful dragon in the Cloudmere. That hunt goes about as well as expected, and it was extremely exciting to see the crew attempt to use their tried-and-tested techniques against this beast.

I mentioned at the start of this review that Black Leviathan was a bit like Moby Dick. That is because it features a captain who is obsessed with killing a specific rare beast who wronged him years ago, in this case a black dragon rather than a white whale. The entirety of this feud is actually shown in this book, as the first two chapters deal with Adaron’s first ship getting destroyed by Gargantuan, with nearly all his friends dying, including his fiancé, whose hand he was holding when she was eaten (with Adaron left holding her severed arm). As a result, the Adaron we see in the present is a much harder man who bears a great hatred for all dragons and is determined to find and kill Gargantuan no matter the cost. This results in a great story of obsession and hatred as Adaron scours the Cloudmere for his prey, while also attempting to kill any other dragon he comes across. The author has done a great job showing Adaron as an eccentric and damaged character from the first time the protagonist meets him. Not only does he order his own whipping every time a member of his crew gets killed by a dragon but he also keeps the skeletal hand of his fiancé in his cabin as a constant reminder of his mission to kill his prey. However, as the book progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that his obsession with finding Gargantuan has driven him insane. Not only does Adaron sacrifice his crew’s safety to locate the dragon but he ignores the concerns of the people serving under them and he even utilises dark practices to find his prey. This all results in a great final showdown with Gargantuan at the end of the book, and I think that the author did an amazing job concluding this captivating story arc.

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies is an excellent and deeply enjoyable fantasy adventure that combines a great central story with an extremely creative fantasy world to create a compelling and fun read. This book is filled to the brim with action and adventure and is guaranteed to get any fantasy lover’s pulse racing. I really loved this book, and I look forward to any future English releases of Perplies work. I do note that Perplies released a second book in this series in 2018, The World Finder, and hopefully we’ll get to see that in English in the next year or so.

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The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ships Cover

Publisher: Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 24 September 2019)

Series: The Tide Child – Book One

Length: 17 hours and 2 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From one of the brightest new stars in fantasy fiction, R. J. Barker, comes The Bone Ships, a remarkable and extremely captivating new adventure that can be described as Gaunt’s Ghosts meets Moby Dick in an incredibly inventive new fantasy world.

Barker has been making some serious waves in the fantasy genre over the last couple of years, ever since bursting onto the scene in 2017 with his debut novel, Age of Assassins, which started The Wounded Kingdom trilogy. He quickly followed this up in 2018, when he released the second and third books in this trilogy, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins. I absolutely loved all three books in this trilogy, although I haven’t yet reviewed King of Assassins. Spoiler: it does get five out of five stars from me and recently made my Top Ten pre-2019 Books list.

As a result, I was very excited earlier in the year when I found out that Barker was writing a whole new series. The Bone Ships is the first book in The Tide Child series, and it has been pretty high up on my to-read list for a while, as I have featured it on both my Top Ten Most Anticipated July-December 2019 Releases and my Top Ten Books I Would Like to Read by the End of 2019 lists. I ended up listening to the audiobook version of The Bone Ships, narrated by Jude Owusu, and what I found was an excellent and inventive fantasy read that might just be one of my favourite books of 2019.

For generations the rival nations of the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands have been fighting each other for dominance of the vast oceans that make up their world. In order to fight this bitter conflict, great ships of war were constructed using the bones of the giant sea dragons, the arakeesian, as only these boneships could withstand the rigours of battle and all the horrors the seas contain. However, years of warfare and shipbuilding has taken a terrible toll, as the arakeesian are now all extinct, and both sides’ supplies of dragon bone are nearing their end.

Of all the remaining boneships in the Hundred Isles fleet, none are considered lower than a black ship. Black ships are ships of the dead, where every crewmember aboard has been condemned to die in shame, unless they can redeem themselves through some great act of bravery. However, the crew of the black ship Tide Child have no intention of performing any acts of bravery, and they and their shipwife, Joron Twiner, are content to drink themselves into oblivion—that is, until the arrival of “Lucky” Meas Gillbryn.

Meas is one of the most respected and feared commanders in all the Hundred Isles, but she has recently been disgraced and banished to Tide Child. Quickly taking control of the ship from Joron, Meas works to turn Tide Child and its crew around and make it into an efficient and proud crew of sailors, because they have a dangerous mission to undertake. The first sea dragon in a generation has been spotted, and whichever side hunts it down and claims its bones will gain a distinct advantage in the war. However, Meas has a different plan in mind, and sets out to protect the dragon from all who want it. Facing off against rival ships, raiders, pirates and treachery from within, can the crew of Tide Child survive to become the stuff of legend, or will their death sentence finally be carried out?

Well damn! Now that was a pretty awesome read! This latest offering from Barker was a superb and elaborate tale of redemption, adversity, camaraderie and adventure on the high seas. Not only is it based on an inventive premise and an elaborate new fantasy world but it contains a first-rate and compelling story that I absolutely loved. This is an absolutely fantastic story which is paced out extremely well and, after the necessary introductions, quickly turns into an addictive yarn with a number of clever elements to it. The end result is a powerful and enjoyable tale which is a wonderful self-contained story but which also sets up some intriguing storylines for any future instalments of this new series.

At the heart of The Bone Ships is an excellent story of camaraderie, respect and selfish people coming together to be part of something bigger. The main setting for the book, the boneship Tide Child, is completely crewed by condemned men and women, most of whom have given up on any form of redemption and are more concerned with petty crime and getting drunk. However, when Meas enters the picture, she quickly turns them into an efficient crew and reignites their pride as sailors and soldiers for their nation. This evolves into a really good redemption arc, as the entire crew really starts to come together as a close-knit team and are eventually given a task which could make them all heroes. The vast majority of the crew subsequently rise to the challenge, so much so that their usually hard-as-nails and determined shipwife is at one point willing to sacrifice everything to save them. This is a pretty fun and amazing part of the story, and it helps that Barker spends time introducing a number of key members of the crew and building them up as likeable characters. There are quite a few fantastic and enjoyable characters scattered throughout the story, and their inclusion really helps the reader grow to care about the people on the ship.

The best character relationship in the book can be seen between the two main characters, Joron Twiner and Meas. Joron is book’s point-of-view character and starts the story off as a drunken, apathetic wreck. Upon losing the position of shipwife to Meas, he expects to be placed at the bottom of the ship’s pecking order, but Meas keeps him on as her deckkeeper (first mate), despite her evident low opinion of him. Throughout the course of the book, these two characters grow closer and eventually become something closer to friends, while at the same time they both show considerable growth as characters. Meas spends a lot of time mentoring Joron, and he slowly moves on from his personal despair to become a respected and capable officer on the ship. Moreover, Joron slowly begins to lose the resentment he holds for Meas for taking his position as shipwife, and starts to really respect her, and see why she is a better commander of the ship. At the same time, Joron also starts to better understand what drives Meas, and why she is so determined to succeed in her mission. The two make for a wonderful partnership, and I think that Barker did a particularly fantastic job with the character of Meas, and I loved his portrayal of her as a rough, tough captain with a secret heart of gold.

While all the character elements I mention above are pretty spectacular, to my mind, one of the most striking and enjoyable things about The Bone Ships is the excellent nautical elements that the author was able to work into the story. I have to say that I was very impressed that Barker, whose previous series was set entirely on land, was able to come up with a detailed and exciting story set mostly aboard a ship, especially as he was utilising these elements for the first time in this book. The author installs a huge amount of nautical detail into his story, and the depictions of life and work aboard a ship of war was pretty amazing, so much so that at times, the reader feels like they are actually aboard this ship. I felt that Barker did an amazing job of combining these cool nautical details with the new fantasy elements he introduced in this book to produce a truly unique adventure on the high seas. I also loved all the shipboard action and combat that occurred throughout the course of the book. There were some really elaborate battles set throughout the story, from an attack on the Tide Child from a flotilla of smaller boats, to a wide-ranging battle between opposing groups of larger ships. The utilisation of unique tactics and fantasy elements, such as powerful crossbows, wind magic and the fact that they are fighting above a giant sea dragon, make for some truly thrilling and exciting battle sequences, which were an absolute treat to read. I am so glad that Barker decided to set this story on the open seas, as it made for truly amazing novel.

One of the other things that I liked about The Bone Ships was the excellent new dark fantasy world that Barker created for this new series. Barker has a real talent for this, as seen in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, and he did it again for this latest book, where the reader is given a fascinating glimpse into a large, ocean dominated world, with all manner of unique fantasy elements in it. This new world is a harsh and deadly place, filled with a huge number of deadly sea beasts that can kill a man in a number of gruesome ways. Into this, Barker also introduces a fun new ship-based culture, complete with a matriarchal society, an intriguing religion and enslaved wind-controlling bird-people. In addition, the two nations that are showcased in this first book are locked in a massive, generations-old conflict, which has completely consumed their societies. I felt that the author did a good job of introducing all the elements of his new world to the reader in a timely and complete manner, and there was never any deficit of knowledge that reduces the reader’s enjoyment of the book. There are so many tiny details that Barker installs in this world, such as the use of paint for good luck, the rarity of metals (island nations, not much room for mines) and the gender bending of ship names and titles (ships are thought of as male, while the captain is called shipwife, no matter their actual gender). All of this, as well as the cool new fantasy elements that Barker comes up with for the story, such as the giant sea-dragons whose bones are used for shipbuilding (what a concept!), make for an exceedingly fascinating background for this fun story.

As I mentioned above, I chose to listen to the audiobook version The Bone Ships, narrated by the talented Jude Owusu. It ran for just over 17 hours in length, which I was able to power through extremely quickly, especially once the story really got going. I have to say that I was really glad that I decided to utilise the audiobook format, as I felt that it helped me visualise all the cool action and excitement that was occurring aboard Tide Child. In addition, I always find that the audiobook format helps me appreciate all the details of a story’s universe, and this was definitely true for The Bone Ships, as I was really able to dive in and fully experience the great new fantasy world in all its glory.

I also have to say how impressed I was with Jude Owusu’s excellent narration of this audiobook. Owusu has a fantastic voice, which I felt really fit into the nautical theme of the entire book. He also comes up with some very distinctive and fitting voices for the various characters that feature within the book, which I felt helped bring out many of these characters personalities. I was particularly impressed with the harsh and commanding voice that he utilised for Meas, and the various sequences where she was barking out orders and threats aboard the ship were a real treat to listen to, as it perfectly encapsulated the shipwife. Other standout characters that Owusu brought to life include Mevans, who the narrator gifted with an exceedingly cheerful voice which fit his personality perfectly, and the mysterious Gullaime, whose narration contained a certain birdy quality to. I also have to commend the real and obvious enthusiasm that Owusu brought to the role. I have always found that enthusiastic narrators can make an audiobook truly come to life, and Owusu was a really good example of this. Not only did his voice contain some noticeable excitement when he narrated the various action sequences throughout the book, but he really got into voicing elements of the story, such as the various shanty-like rhymes that Barker installed throughout the story, or the various nautical response of the crew. The way that he shouted out “Ey” (the sailor’s way of saying yes) multiple times throughout the book was a lot of fun, and I could feel the infectious enthusiasm of the crew while he did this. The sheer passion and vocal skill that Owusu puts into this audiobook is just fantastic, and I cannot recommend this format enough, as it was an amazing way to enjoy this epic book.

The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker is an absolutely outstanding read that I cannot recommend enough. Barker is quickly becoming one of the most impressive new fantasy authors out there, and he honestly gets better with every book he writes. The Bone Ships had so many cool elements to it, and any readers who check it out will be quickly hooked by its captivating story and bold adventure. I cannot wait to see where Barker will take this story next, and I would strongly encourage any reader looking for their next amazing fantasy tale, to check out this great new book. Also, how awesome is the cover for this book!!

Throwback Thursday: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

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Publishers: Paolini LLC, Knopf Books, Random House AudioBooks

Publication dates:

Eragon – 2002

Eldest – 2005

Brisingr – 2008

Inheritance – 2011

 

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

For my first edition of Unseen Library’s Throwback Thursday series, I have decided to review an important series from my youth, the Inheritance Cycle.  Loved by many, strongly criticised by others, the Inheritance Cycle is a highly inventive young adult fantasy series with an epic narrative of good versus evil

Released between 2002 and 2011, the Inheritance Cycle is the first series from author Christopher Paolini and contains four books.  Since its initial release, the first book in the series, Eragon, has been adapted into a movie starring Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou and Rachel Weisz.  Despite its strong cast, the movie was a poor adaption of the source material and flopped both critically and financially.  As is often the case, however, the books are stronger than the film.

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I received a copy of Eragon as a birthday gift a short time after its initial release in 2002 and powered through it in short order, as I was instantly hooked by the ambitious plot, massive amounts of lore, and the inventive fantasy elements.  Following Eragon I made sure to grab every other book in the Inheritance Cycle as soon as they came out and I considered it one of my favourite series.  Having re-listened to the entire Inheritance Cycle a few times on audiobook I still massively enjoy the series, although I have noticed a few flaws with the franchise.

The books are all set in the world of Alagaësia, a land filled with classic fantasy elements such as dragons, elves, dwarfs and magic, in addition to a few unique creatures and powers.  Many years before the start of the series, an order known as the Dragon Riders were formed to keep peace and harmony in Alagaësia.  The elven and human Riders were bound to their sentient dragons and formed a lifelong partnership with them, gaining powerful magical abilities as a result.  Following years of peace, the Dragon Riders were wiped out by a crazed former member of the order, Galbatorix, and his followers.  After destroying the Riders and driving the dragons to near extinction, Galbatorix conquered the human kingdoms of Alagaësia and forced the elves and dwarfs into hiding.

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The first book in the series, Eragon, starts with the titular character, the young human Eragon, receiving one of the last surviving dragon eggs, which hatches forth the dragon Saphira.  Following an attack by Galbatorix’s servants, Eragon, Saphira and their mentor, Brom, are forced to flee their village of Carvahall and travel throughout Alagaësia before finally joining up with the rebel organisation, the Varden.  Along the way, Eragon and Saphira lose Brom, encounter the mysterious Murtagh, and rescue the elf Arya from Galbatorix’s captivity.

The following books in the series follow Eragon and Saphira as they lead the fight against Galbatorix while also learning about their powers and the history of the riders.  They encounter new mentors, find out terrible secrets about Eragon’s past, and eventually confront Galbatorix in a final battle.  At the same time, Eragon’s cousin Roran becomes a fugitive from the crown and must lead the entire village of Carvahall in an epic journey to the Varden.  There is also a focus on young political rebel Nasuada, who becomes leader of the Varden in the second book, and examines the trials and tribulations of leading a war against an all-powerful magic tyrant.

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The last two times that I enjoyed the books in the Inheritance Cycle, I chose to listen to them by audiobook, which are narrated by the outstanding Gerard Doyle.  Eragon is the shortest audiobook at 16 hours 27 minutes, while Inheritance, the finale, clocks in at 31 hours 28 minutes.  I am a huge fan of listening to books with large amounts of internal lore, history and background as it means I am less likely to miss an interesting fact or accidently skip over something with tired eyes.  As Paolini has created a massive amount of background lore and detail to accompany his story, I would heartily recommend listening to the Inheritance Cycle, as I felt that I absorbed so much more from the series as a result.  Doyle is an excellent narrator for this series, and at no point did I find his voice work either distracting or annoying.  His character voices are done very well, and he was able to produce excellent voices for both the male and female characters, as well as the various fantasy species.  I particularly enjoyed the Scottish accent that Doyle attributed to the character of Murtagh, as I felt it fit the character perfectly and made him very distinctive throughout the series.  Other features of the audiobook editions of this series that might appeal to potential listeners are the exclusive interviews with the author that were included at the end of two of the books.

Without a doubt, the best feature of this entire series is the sheer amount of imagination and lore that Paolini has invested in his book’s settings and history.  Each of the books in the Inheritance Cycle contains an incredible amount of background information, elaborate settings and a huge range of fantasy creatures, each with their own skills and history.  Paolini’s immense creativity is particularly evident in the series’ complex rules of magic that are a major feature of all the books.  The detailed explanation provided in Eragon is massively expanded upon in the later books in the series, and represents a significant part of the narrative.  It is also incredible to consider that Paolini created a completely new language for this magic.  With huge amounts of effort expended in creating complex lore, magic and history for all the races and peoples of Alagaësia, it is worth reading this entire series just to see all of these wonderful inclusions.

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There are some amazing story elements contained within the Inheritance Cycle books.  Paolini has created an epic fantasy adventure that draws the reader in and makes them care about the battle for Alagaësia.  This series has everything from impressive duels to large-scale battles that range from small groups of soldiers fighting to massive pitched battles and sieges.  There is also a significant amount of magic, politics, intrigue, romance, family and everything else that makes up a great fantasy story.  The main character, Eragon, is a classic hero coming into his great power storyline that fantasy fans will appreciate and enjoy.  However, I personally thought that the storylines that focused on Eragon’s cousin Roran were the best parts of the entire series, and business really picked up when he was made a point of view character in Eldest.  Roran is a much more grounded and likable character than Eragon, especially as he has to rely on his skill, cunning and luck to survive in a world where massive monsters and powerful magicians run rampart.

The first book, Eragon, is the only edition in the Inheritance Cycle that is told completely from the viewpoint of its titular character.  This book is a superb introduction to the series and spends significant time laying down the groundwork for the next three books.  Some great characters are introduced within this first novel, and there are a range of terrific battle scenes, the establishment of some fantastic relationships and some deep emotional moments.

The second book, Eldest, is another amazing part of this series.  Eragon spends a significant part of the book physically crippled following the final battle in Eragon, and Paolini’s descriptions of his despair and hopelessness are particularly vivid.  I am a real sucker for fantasy teaching sequences, so the scenes where Eragon learns magic, history and other subjects in the elven kingdom were really enjoyable for me.  However, the standout parts of this book focus on Eragon’s cousin Roran and the inhabitants of Carvahall.  Eragon’s actions in the first book results in Carvahall being targeted by Galbatorix and his forces, and Roran and the villages must first defend their home and then attempt to flee to the Varden.  Their exodus has some great scenes, including an extended voyage at sea, and is it fascinating to see how Eragon’s adventures impact the people he left behind.  Special mention should also be made of the scenes told from the viewpoint of Nasuada as she takes control of the Varden and leads its invasion of Galbatorix’s kingdom.  The final battle sequence of the book is another huge highlight, as the reader gets to see Eragon unleash his new powers in a massive battle scene.  The combination of the book’s three storylines into one conclusion is particularly enjoyable and epic, and there are some amazing battles and several important character revelations for the protagonist.

The third book, Brisingr, represents another fun addition to the series.  Eragon sets out on a journey of discovery during his arc.  Of particular note is the extremely intriguing look at dwarf politics and emotional reveals about Eragon’s heritage and family.  Roran’s arc is action-packed and exciting as it focuses on his role as a new member of Varden as he works his way up to becoming a high-ranking commander in the army.  The devastating conclusion to this book provides an emotional punch to the reader as one of the most likable characters meets their end.

Inheritance, the final book in the Inheritance Cycle, draws this story to its epic conclusion.  Readers who have enjoyed the first three entries in this series will have no choice but to see how this adventure ends.  Once again Roran’s arc shines through as the most enjoyable part of the entire book.  Not only does this arc focus on his own fantastic siege storyline, but it is through Roran’s eyes that we watch the massive battle for Galbatorix’s capital.  While Eragon and most of the other supporting characters are fighting Galbatorix, Roran is the only point of view character observing the fierce street-to-street combat happening in the city below.  Roran’s epic battles in this sequence more than make up for certain deficits with the main fight between the remaining Dragon Riders above.  That being said, Eragon, Arya and Angela’s earlier confrontation with a group of fanatical priests in tunnels below an ancient temple has a certain sinister edge to it that will appeal to some readers.  Offering a satisfying conclusion with a number of intriguing storylines left open for future books, this is a superb final chapter for the entire Inheritance Cycle.

While this series has a lot of great features and positive points in its favour, there are a few negative issues that need to be addressed.  When it was released, one of the main criticisms the Inheritance Cycle received was about its similarities to other works, and it’s honestly not hard to see some striking resemblances to the original Star Wars movies.  The Dragon Riders are extremely similar to Jedi, down to the unbreakable, colour-coded swords.  Obi-Wan Kenobi’s monologue from A New Hope about the destruction of the Jedi can pretty much be substituted for Brom’s description of the fall of the Riders.  The main character, Eragon, is essentially Luke Skywalker.  When we first encounter him he is living with a gruff uncle and suddenly receives a MacGuffin (in this case a dragon egg rather than a droid) that dramatically changes his life.  The arrival of the MacGuffin results in the death of his guardian and he flees the only home he knows with a mentor character.  The mentor character, Brom, the former Rider, has way too many similarities with Obi-Wan as he gives the protagonist his early, uncompleted training, provides him with his first weapon, and then dies about two-thirds through the first volume.  In the course of the first book Eragon also meets up with a rogue-like character, rescues a trapped female who he first sees from a distance (through magical scrying rather than a hologram) who later turns out to be a princess, and then flees to a rebel stronghold for an epic confrontation.  In later books Eragon meets a Yoda-like character in Oromis and finds he is related to the Darth Vader equivalent, Murtagh (after Murtagh obtains a red sword).  He eventually faces the Emperor-like villain, Galbatorix, at the very end of the series, and is forced to have a final duel with Murtagh in front of him.  Upon Galbatorix’s death and the utter destruction of his ultimate base, the heroes liberate the whole world from the control of the evil empire and Eragon sets out to teach a new generation of Riders.

These are only some of the more obvious similarities to Star Wars, and they are pretty glaring; however, this has never ruined the series for me.  Other criticisms about similarities to fantasy works such as Lord of the Rings, due to the inclusions of dwarfs and elves are a bit harder to credit, as these are hardly unique fantasy races anymore and Paolini does a fantastic job creating distinctive histories and traits for these races.

One thing that I really disliked about the series, however, is the terrible romantic arc between Eragon and the elf Arya.  Eragon pretty much falls in love with her the second he sees her, but Arya is strongly opposed to his romantic advances for various reasons.  Eragon’s unrelenting pursuit of her, especially in the second book, is very uncomfortable, and his depression and self-pitying attitude following her rejections are some of the worst parts of the series.  While their relationship in the third and fourth books becomes more natural and builds up as a result of mutual respect, I’m personally glad that Paolini doesn’t pull the trigger on their relationship at the end of the series.

I was also not a big fan of the extreme amount of self-doubt that Paolini injected into his protagonist, possibly to counterbalance the overpowered nature of Eragon.  Eragon spends way too long feeling sorry for himself, and the scenes where he deals with these feelings of inadequacy and doubt are some of the hardest to get through.  These character flaws, along with the Arya romance subplot, make it hard for the reader to like Eragon at times, and are part of the reason that I feel Roran is the better hero in the series.

While they did have some amazing parts, the third and fourth books in the series did seem to drag at times.  While I enjoyed Brisingr, when you view the whole series, I feel that Paolini could have probably gotten away with turning the series into a trilogy and simply incorporating some of the key story points into Inheritance instead.  The final conclusion of Inheritance is also a bit clichéd, especially when, out of nowhere, Eragon is able to use magic to make Galbatorix understand all the pain his actions have caused.  It’s a pretty weak way to end this epic confrontation, but luckily the reader isn’t too disappointed, especially with the epic Roran storyline down in the city ramping up the action in this part of the book.

Despite the above criticisms, I still rate all of the books in the Inheritance Cycle four stars out of five.  While this rating may be slightly bolstered by nostalgia, I do believe that this is an excellent series that will appeal to many fantasy fans, especially those younger readers who are only just starting to read the genre.  With an absolutely incredible amount of fantasy details, world history and established lore, I am still amazed by Paolini’s sheer imagination every time I go back to this series.  There are some electrifying storylines within all four of these books, as well as enough action, be it physical, mental or magical, to make any action junkie’s pulse run wild.  Readers looking for the next epic fantasy series to enjoy will find an incredible adventure awaits within the Inheritance Cycle.

My Rating (Series and Each Book):

Four stars

Scales of Empire by Kylie Chan

Scales of Empire Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 19 February 2018

 

Can humanity survive the arrival of an alien dragon with an offer of love?  Find out in this curious novel about first contact with aliens from bestselling Australian author Kylie Chan.

In the near future, Earth’s ecosystem is failing and humanity’s only hope for survival lies in escaping our solar system and finding viable new planets to colonise.  Corporal Jian Choumali has been chosen to accompany one of the huge generation ships that is preparing to journey to a distant planet.  However, the launch is interrupted by the arrival of a giant alien spaceship above Earth that will change humanity forever.

The ship is piloted by an alien known as a dragon, which bears a striking resemblance to the beasts of legend.  Dragons are the ruling members of a vast technologically and culturally advanced empire made up of numerous alien races.  The Dragon emissary, Shiumo, brings offers of peace, love and advanced technology to humanity as she introduces Earth to a wider universe.

Jian and her commander, Richard Alto, are chosen to be the first delegates to meet with Shiumo, and they soon become her guides to Earth.  Shiumo becomes a sensation overnight, providing humanity with longer lives, faster-than-light travel and a solution to Earth’s failing ecosystem.

However, the more Jian gets to know Shiumo, the more it becomes apparent that the Dragons may not be as benevolent as they seem.  What price will humanity really have to pay to join the Empire, and what role will the Dragons’ cat-like enemies play in the future of Earth?

Scales of Empire is the first book in the intriguing Dragon Empire trilogy, written by Australian author Kylie Chan.  This is Chan’s first voyage into science fiction, having previously written the Chinese mythology inspired Xuan Wu series.

Scales of Empire has a number of cool features that make it an amusing and thought-provoking science fiction novel.  Chan has constructed a first contact story that explores how humanity could potentially interact with an advanced alien race.  Chan provides a series of fascinating postulations about what human products would prove desirable to an alien species, what humanity could use in our defence against potential alien threats, and what our place would be among a vast interstellar empire.  The Dragons are the stars of this book, as Chan has imbued them with several distinctive abilities and personality quirks.  There is also a fun origin story to explain the similarities between the alien Dragons and the Earth dragons of myth and legend.  Having the other main alien race also resemble an Earth species, in this case cats, is a little over the top very unrealistic.  However, the behaviour of this other species acts as a good foil to the apparently benevolent and socially advanced Dragons.

Science fiction aficionados will also appreciate Chan’s descriptions and theories about what would be required for humans to reach and colonise other inhabitable planets in the galaxy.  Chan spends some of the early parts of the book highlighting her theories about how humans in the near future would achieve this.  Her descriptions of large ships that would require ten generations of its crew to live in space before they even reached the planet is fascinating, as are her suggestions about the ideal initial crewmembers; not a lot of other writers would suggest that colonisation ships should have large crews mostly made up of bisexual women with good genetic diversity.  In addition, there is also some intriguing discussion about the colonisation of other planets, and several chapters are dedicated to the training and initial colonisation of a planet, which many readers will find enticing.

While these science fiction aspects of the book are good reasons to try Scales of Empire, one of the most compelling and memorable aspect of this book is the constant examination of whether the Dragons are as benevolent as they seem, or if they have their own secret agenda.  This becomes a central focus of the story as the human characters analyse all of the Dragons’ actions while coming up with countermoves and their own attempts at manipulation.  There are many twists and turns, and at points it becomes hard to tell whether the Dragons or the humans come off as the worst species during these interactions.  This results in a really compelling narrative which serves as a superb central focus for the book and will keep you hooked until the final reveal.

The new book from Kylie Chan is an intriguing start to a promising science fiction trilogy.  Examining humanity’s potential first contact with an alien species, Chan asks the question: between an alien species with its own agenda and mistrustful and calculating humans, who is the greater evil?  This is a brilliant bit of fiction that provides a distinctive and in-depth discussion and is definitely worth exploring.

My Rating:
Three and a half stars

to

Four stars