Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review of Sea Dragon Heir

Sea Dragon Heir
by Storm Constantine
384pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 5.5/10
Amazon Rating: 3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.56/5

Sea Dragon Heir is the first book in The Chronicles of Magravandias trilogy by Storm Constantine. The next two books in this epic fantasy trilogy are The Crown of Silence and The Way of Light, respectively.

The novel starts with the end of the independent state of Caradore when it is conquered by a king of a Magravandian house. The lord of Caradore is killed while his wife attempts to hide her children. It is not long before the rest of the rest of the Palindrake family is found and the eldest son is singled out by the king. The new king would like him to submit to a ritual in which he submits all his power as the dragon heir to Madragore. The boy agrees since his mother told him it is important that he remain alive so their line can continue. She said that he must never tell his children of their heritage and that the dragon heir will sleep for a while but will not cease to exist.

Two hundred years later the Palindrake family consists of Everna and her twin siblings Valraven and Pharinet. Although Pharinet has dreamed of the dragons since she was a little girl, it is not until she is fifteen years old that she learns the truth about their heritage from Everna. The Palindrake women were priestesses of the sea dragons, and the firstborn son was the dragon heir who channeled their power. Her brother Valraven is therefore the dragon heir, but he does not know it - and Everna says they must trust in the work begun by their ancestor Ilcretia and make sure Valraven remains ignorant of this role until the time is right.

Unfortunately, Sea Dragon Heir did not live up to the standard set by Storm Constantine's earlier Wraeththu trilogy (the first book in that trilogy is quite possibly my favorite book of all time). It was readable enough other than a couple of parts that were somewhat dull, especially toward the end, but it was missing that special something that made the Wraeththu books stand out to me. Wraeththu was original and beautifully written with multi-faceted characters that came alive and left me thinking about it for weeks after reading it. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two since they are so different - Sea Dragon Heir is more traditional fantasy and less introspective and character-driven. However, since I loved Wraeththu so much, I find it impossible not to compare the two and Sea Dragon Heir failed to affect me even close to the same way. Once the book was out of sight, it was out of mind as well.

The early part of the book does read a bit like an old Victorian romance with some fantasy thrown in. Pharinet grows up with her closest friend Ellony and they both dream of princes who will sweep them off their feet as children. They often wonder if they are in love with each other's brothers, and as time goes by it becomes apparent that they are expected to marry them. Ellony is ecstatic about one day becoming Valraven's wife, but Pharinet has no real feelings for Ellony's brother Khaster. As she does come close to marrying age, Pharinet realizes she doesn't want Ellony to marry Valraven - because she is madly in love with her own twin brother.

Pharinet's section was fun to read in a soap opera sort of way and she was an intriguing character. There was the tension of her relationship with Valraven, who is in love with her too. And there's her double-edged relationship with naive, romantic Ellony, who doesn't seem to understand that Valraven doesn't return her feelings. Pharinet is wildly jealous of Ellony and at times she seems to hate her old friend, yet there are also times when it seems as though she cannot completely forget the close friendship she shared with her. Although it was not the most compelling reading ever, these pages did fly by.

Not quite halfway through the novel, the perspective changes from Pharinet to a completely new character, the princess Varencienne. The old characters were still present since Varencienne moved to Caradore; there was just more of her than the others. While the fantasy storyline did progress more during this perspective, Varencienne was more boring than Pharinet. She was a perfectly respectable woman and in some ways seemed more grounded and rational (i.e., she didn't join the Valraven fan club) but parts of her story were rather dull. Like Pharinet, she was obsessive, but her dreams were all for a dead man she'd never even met - all it took was seeing his picture on the wall to set her imagination afire.

One problem I did have was I never understood why all these women were fawning over Valraven. He never did anything to make me believe he was as wonderful as Pharinet and Ellony seemed to think he was, but then I also never felt that we really learned a lot about Valraven even though he was such a central figure as the dragon heir. Other than his sister, he never really seemed to care about anyone, and he cheated on his wife with his own sibling. It was most likely completely intentional that he wasn't supposed to be the knight in shining armor; Storm Constantine does tend to write flawed characters instead of perfectly good ones. It's just that from what I did read about him, it never seemed credible that he'd garner such depth of feeling from so many people (as there is also a young man just as crazy about Valraven as Ellony and Pharinet).

The fantasy part of the story seemed fairly generic and predictable. It's basically the story of an evil king who overthrows a nation, replaces its religion with their own religion, and the struggle of their ancestors to regain their place and the old ways.

For the amount that happened in this novel, it could have been a lot shorter. Toward the end I was definitely losing interest and was ready to finish it. The final pages did leave me somewhat curious as to where it was going, though, and now I'm not sure whether or not I'll read the second book in this series.

Sea Dragon Heir had three-dimensional, flawed characters but they never came alive the same way as others Constantine has written. Although some of these protagonists were fun to read about, there were times the story dragged, particularly as the fantasy aspect seemed fairly standard. I'd recommend newcomers to the writing of Storm Constantine pick up The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit instead of this novel.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a gift from a friend.


orannia said...

Thank you Kristen. I'll stick with trying The Enchantments of Flesh & Spirit, which is still on my TBR list and which I will get too....hopefully soon!

Kristen said...

Orannia - I cannot wait to see what you think of The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit. Someday I should get the revised book; I'd love to see how it compares.

Anastasia said...

That's how I felt about it too, I didn't like the change in POV and lost interest halfway through. But I think I'll give the entire series a chance since Storm Constantine said these books may be her best. When she wrote to me to clarifying my order from Immanion press, I couldn't resist asking her which book of her she think is the best, and also which one she likes best personally. I think she won't mind if I share the answer:

"As for your question, they are very difficult question to answer! I love the Wraeththu books, because they are closest to my heart, but I think the Magravandias books are among my best-written. It's all down to personal taste, I suppose. Some people have told me that The Monstrous Regiment is their favourite of mine, yet I think that is the weakest. There are parts of all the books that I like and feed proud of, and other parts I'm not so sure about.

To use an analogy, my novels are like my children. The Wraeththu books are the good-looking ones, the Magravandias ones are the go-getters, books like Calenture and Sign for the Sacred are the studious, academic types and The Monstrous Regiment is the runt of the litter, but has a few charming traits! :) "

I think the thing to keep in mind is that she's a versatile writer and has been working over several decades, and her books will have very different styles.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Thanks for sharing what Storm Constantine had to say about her favorites of her books. It's always interesting to see which of their books authors prefer. I'm surprised to see that she considers this series to be her best, but that makes me think more carefully about giving the rest of the series a chance as well. After all, the first book is only the first third of it. And I definitely felt like maybe my disappointment in this one was more me just because this was so different from the Wraeththu books. And I just loved those ones so much that not much else compares to them in my eyes!

But I'll still be reading Calenture, Sign for the Sacred and the last Wraeththu Histories book first even if I do finish this series... Especially since I already have those ones.

Oh, and I got my BEA confirmation email today - so excited!

rebelaessedai said...

I just wanted to say thanks for reading this for me. You have so many people recommending you books all the time! I can't wait to see what you think of the other two I sent you for this year. I hope we continue doing this, because it's a lot of fun, even if I did disappoint you this time.

Kristen said...

rebelaessedai - Thanks for sending it to me. It is fun to exchange some favorites from the year before like this. Like I said before, I think at least some of the disappointment was just me since I have such high expectations after Wraeththu.

I'll probably save Stephen King for around Halloween, but I want to read the Tanya Huff one before the year is halfway over.