Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When You Don't Like a Book

In my review of David Drake's The Dragon Lord over at Black Gate, I go on at length about how I was enticed to read the book by a picture by Wayne Barlowe. That picture coupled with my positive memories of reading Drake in the past led me to have pretty high hopes for the book. Alack and alas, they were not fulfilled.
   There have been a few books I reviewed that I didn't really love, The Magic Goes Away springing instantly to mind. But I hadn't picked that one up with any sort of hopes for it. Niven's book was just another S&S novel to be checked off the great list of unread books carried around in my head.
Drake's book was something different. I knew its history of having started as the outline for a Cormac mac Art book so that was enticing. From his killer Vettius stories (and the killer novel Killer co-written with his friend Karl Edward freakin' Wagner), I knew Drake is a master of recreating ancient history. For these reasons alone I was hoping The Dragon Lord would be a good read.
Well, maybe I should rephrase that. It's not a terrible read, it's just that it doesn't ever gel as a novel, reading more like a bunch of ill-connected short stories. Each, especially the one about retrieving the Sword and Shield of Achilos, is good in its own way. It's a case of the sum being unequal to the parts.
Now that being said, I didn't just want to write a negative review (and no, I'm not one of those critics not writing negative reviews anymore). Negative reviews serve an important purpose, either as a corrective or a warning. But I don't want to be one of those critics given over to savage takedowns. The point of a review should be to explain why something hasn't succeeded or point out when it's egregiously awful, something The Dragon Lord is not.
On the other hand, the critic should also be ready to explain and laud the parts of a book that work. That there are good (very good) parts of The Dragon Lord and well worth a reader's time. Drake brings a laudable, workaday attitude to heroic fiction. There's a similarity to the equally unflashy Glen Cook to Drake's S&S which I find very satisfying. It may not be straight line, but there's definitely a line between Drake's fantasy stories and the more "realistic" fantasy being written now by the likes of Abercrombie and GRRM. I think my review presents adequately the failings of The Dragon Lord without neglecting its good parts.
Right now I'm reading a bunch of stuff. I'm starting Andre Norton's Year of the Unicorn today and Sunday I started Carole McDonnell's The Constant Tower. I'm also still reading the second of Max Allan Collins' Nolan books and I'm dipping into Harold Lamb's Swords from the West a story at a time. I haven't read like this since grad school. It's actually a little tough, but a good tough.

My music this week didn't switch over to heavier stuff from Britpop, just different British trad rock.  I watched an entire concert of Beady Eye, a band formed from the remnants of Oasis, filmed at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. Not bad, even if they can't wrangle together a song like Noel Gallagher could. They've got a rock star swagger that most bands these days lack.
Then I dug out my Ocean Colour Scene albums. They're not as quadraphonic and technicolor as Oasis or spacey as Cast, but they're solid through and through. They've got a natural soulfulness and swing that meshes well with their very British-ness. I replayed "The Riverboat Song" from Moseley Shoals in the car today and its opening riff hit me the same way it did nearly fifteen years ago when I first heard it. Seeing them live in about thirteen years ago was great. Blistering on the heavy tracks and sweet on the soft ones. They ended the show with the Small Face's "Song of a Baker". It rarely gets more British or cooler than that.


  1. I liked The Dragon Lord, my caveat though, is it was also one of the very first S&S novels I ever read - I believe right next to The Magic Goes Away - which I wanted to like because of the Esteban Maroto art and because I liked the concept- but I was so disappointed in it that The Dragon Lord seemed pretty good by comparison.

    Looking back, I didn't have a lot to compare it too, and I have not done a reread as I often do with REH and KEW. I had read no KEW and precious little REH when I read The Dragon Lord. I do recall reading a foreword where I think it might have been Drake's first novel? Is that possible, so I do cut some slack on everyone's first novel too.

    1. I'm a big King Arthur fan so his handling of the legends definitely threw off my reading of the book. Yeah, it was his first novel and it's a whole lot better than many other first novels. I just wanted to like it so much more than I did.