Review: The Dragon's Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller

Posted by DarkChaplain at 1/03/2017
Dragons once soared in the skies, but that was before the Transformation, before they took human form. Now, demonic forces stand to obliterate them. When left mortally wounded, Darnuir, the Prince of Dragons, can only be saved through a dangerous rebirthing spell. He is left as a babe in human hands.

Twenty years later, Darnuir is of age to wield the Dragon's Blade. As the last member of his bloodline, he is the only one who can. He is plunged into a role he is not prepared for, to lead a people he does not know. Shadowy demons ravage his new home and the alliance between humans, dragons and fairies has fractured.

Time is short, for new threats and deadlier enemies are emerging...
Welcome back to the first review of the new year! This one's been simmering for a little while, and I was hoping to get it out in December originally. Things got too hectic for that, though, so we'll start the year with it instead.
Michael R. Miller contacted me via email back in July, while I was out of country visiting my girlfriend. I still remember first opening his email while sitting at the airport waiting for things to get going. He offered me a review copy of the novel, and I took that chance, though I also told him it'd take me a while to get around to it. But now it is here, so let's look at it!

The Story:
"Dragons once soared in the skies, but that was before the Transformation, before they took human form. Now, demonic forces stand to obliterate them. When left mortally wounded, Darnuir, the Prince of Dragons, can only be saved through a dangerous rebirthing spell. He is left as a babe in human hands.

Twenty years later, Darnuir is of age to wield the Dragon's Blade. As the last member of his bloodline, he is the only one who can. He is plunged into a role he is not prepared for, to lead a people he does not know. Shadowy demons ravage his new home and the alliance between humans, dragons and fairies has fractured.
Time is short, for new threats and deadlier enemies are emerging... "

Disclaimer
The author contacted me via email to offer a review copy back in July 2016. While reading it, I have also ordered a print copy for my shelf.

The Review:
The Dragon's Blade: The Reborn King is Michael R. Miller's debut novel, so I'll be trying to look more at his concepts and ideas and try giving constructive feedback. A fresh mind with cool ideas is, in my opinion, worth more than flawless execution that comes more easily with greater experience.

First off, I love dragons. I still have a bunch of figurines and even plushies standing in my living room to attest to that. Books like Andy Remic's The Dragon Engine attract me by default, by virtue of having dragons up front (and that one had metal dragons at that!), and I still have a few dragon-related books waiting for me in the near future. So my first impulse when it came to The Reborn King was that I wanted to read it. I was a little apprehensive at the idea of dragons-turned-humanoid, admittedly, but that idea, too, had promise in my eyes.

I think that actually hits the book on its head: It offers a lot of fresh ideas with plenty of promise to them. Whether it be blue-skinned fairies living in a caste system with roles assigned early on and stuck to, some with wings, others without, or demons unhappy at being ensnared by the dark lord and struggling in their chains, or, indeed, the idea of having the protagonist rewind back to being a baby, losing his memories in the process, all of those things have huge potential when handled well.

Thankfully, I believe that Miller did indeed handle them nicely. Some things are still bumpy and a little clumsy in places (more on that later), but the overall direction the plot took had me ever more intrigued, to the point where I ordered a retail copy after reaching the halfway point (which has yet to arrive or indeed be dispatched, I'm afraid. Bloody holidays!) and am eager to read the sequel, out in February. So yes, the story and characters did indeed work for me, to the point where I was dismayed by twists and deaths throughout.
Of course, a bunch of the twists were predictable, and sometimes fill the archetypical shoes of a high fantasy novel. But predictability isn't a bad thing in my eyes, not unless the signs are so on the nose that you have to ask yourself why the characters can't figure it out half the book earlier already. That isn't the case here, and even the somewhat predictable events were delivered with a fresh context that I could appreciate.

Seeing Darnuir's growth throughout the book was satisfying. At the core, this is his story, so it better be good. I didn't feel very fond of the character before his inevitable rejuvenation a few chapters in - and indeed, that was kind of the point! He was brash, foul-tempered, arrogant, in short: a douche. A powerful douche, maybe, but a douche nonetheless. He looked down on humans, thought he'd be a better king than his father and ever-eager for battle.
His new self, brought up among human hunters, is very different. He is caring, perceptive, modest and values his friends highly, where before he didn't have any to speak of. Ignorant of his true nature until the magical Dragon's Blade reappears before him as he reaches adulthood, and explanations are in order, he is likeable and offers a good deal of depth.

When the Dragon's Blade makes its influence known, the new Darnuir is thrown into turmoil, as parts of his old life spill over into the new. A priority of the novel is Darnuir's search for himself, the rediscovery of his old self, and the way he reconciles his two halves. Having to find his place in the world, suddenly much bigger than his cold mountain town, and figure out how to be the king of dragons after having lived as a human for two decades, is a tough road for the protagonist, but makes for exciting reading.
Things are complicated by the appearance of the Guardian, Blaine, who wields a sword twin to Darnuir's own Dragon's Blade, but aims to mold him to his own nebulous designs. Adding the misadventures of love and friendship as well as a loyalty to humankind that few dragons appear to share, Darnuir is in for a ride - as is the reader.

Where Darnuir undoubtedly forms the spine of the book, the supporting protagonists were intriguing and exciting as well, whether they had their own point of view chapters or not. Cassandra, a girl held captive by the treacherous wizard Castallan in his Bastion, provides new turns to the story, and Brackendon, the wizard who turned Darnuir into a baby again, adds the bulk of the magical component to the story.

Magic, here called Cascade energy, is highly toxic, addictive and can scorch your body severely. The costs of using magic are palpable everywhere, and even trees suffer from it in places. Magic needs to come at a cost and have its limits to be satisfying, in my eyes, and Miller achieved that very well with his Cascade. It introduced an element of risk while being rewarding too, and its users are anything but all-powerful, as exhaustion and intoxication take their tolls quickly. It was well-done.

On top of that, I ended up enjoying the differences between the three major races: Dragons, humans and fairies. Fairies are, as expected, more nature-bound than the others, while dragons are usually arrogant and revelling in their inherent strength and speed. They are presented with a strong history, their own gods, and their own downfalls. The author even made it a point to detail how they build their warcamps, traditionally, and in Blaine you got a stickler for tradition and disdain for humankind, who waged wars on dragons in ages past. While no, these aren't firebreathing, flying dragons anymore, they still epitomise the pride and grandeur of old, and the tensions between them and humans especially made for good reading.

I am also happy Miller didn't fall into the trap of unrelenting action for his debut. While action and battles are all here, they don't overwhelm the ongoing plot. They are used where it counts, underlining the characters and their motivations, rather than being self-serving sections to keep (and effectively lose) the reader's attention. While the book makes mention of massive armies ravaging the realms, what we see of that is still rooted around the relevant characters and their personal involvement, including the preparations for battle or the misery afterwards. These personal perspectives are valuable when used the way they are here, and the book is stronger for them.

The negative points I have for the novel have more to do with the ground-level execution, namely somewhat clumsy prose and a bunch of errors ranging from typos to little grammatical twists here and there. I'm not entirely clear if what I read was the retail copy, though a cursory check of release dates would indicate it, so I am a little disappointed by how many typos, or instances of a connecting word, slipped through. If you consider yourself a "grammar nazi" or take especial offense at things like these, I can see that as a turnoff for sure. A little more time proofing could have prevented most of these, and I don't expect the second novel to make the same mistakes here.

As for the "clumsy prose" part, this is something I felt a little uncertain of early on, but found got less noticeable later on in the book. Some paragraphs I felt could have been put more effectively, and some lines could have been condensed by using different vocab, but those are things that I'd expect from a debut novel like this, and is something that is best served through practice and writing more, gaining experience rather than ordering a thesaurus off Amazon and overcomplicating things. While I found some things phrased oddly, a lot of those instances seemed relatively easy to solve, and I trust that Miller's editor will grow along with him to catch this stuff while reading over the drafts.

The important thing is, in my eyes, that the building blocks of an exciting world with a rich history are all there, and the characters and their individual struggles within the bigger picture are compelling. They were, and so I can overlook the nagging growing pains of a fresh new author. The end result is one to be proud of, especially since it turned out to be a compelling novel full of depth and concepts I'd like to see expanded on in future installments. Miller has a bunch of bold ideas here, and offers the world building to back them up. What polish the book lacks is well made-up for in its themes and characters.

After some mighty-cool twists towards the end, I can definitely say that I am in for the second book. I am excited to see where all this is going, especially as some characters' motivations are put into doubt. With a lot of the groundwork done, I have high expectations for Veiled Intentions. Next time I won't be putting my read off for so long, that's for sure!

The Dragon's Blade: The Reborn King on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


The Reading Lamp

0 comments:

Leave a Reply

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »