Book Review: The Dragon Round
The Dragon Round
by Stephen S. Power
Simon and Schuster
(e-galley from NetGalley)
I got an advance review copy from NetGalley in February, and within a few chapters, I was urging anyone who would listen to pre-order this excellent fantasy novel. I wrote a review saying as much even before I finished it. As I kept reading, I kept enjoying and appreciating how good it was. But enough of the reasons why evolved as the story went on that I decided it deserved a second take on the review.
Everything I said initially is still true: If you like swashbuckling, enjoyed Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and are a discerning fantasy reader, you’re going to appreciate this book, especially for the seafaring adventure and shipwrecked island survival that set the tone of about the first half of the book, told mostly from the perspective of Jeryon, the ship captain, and Everlyn, the ship’s apothecary stranded with him. The worldbuilding was consistently impressive. Power’s prose makes the island and its strange flora and fauna easy to imagine, along with the physicality and behavior of the dragon.
I zoomed through the first chapters, enjoying the swashbuckling and island adventure, and the fact that the dynamic between captain and apothecary developed out of an uneasy alliance and sidestepped romance tropes in favor of solid friendship. (Made all the more enjoyable because it was true to the characters, and a decision that not nearly enough fantasy authors make.)
In the first half of the book, I saw some references to a corporate-driven culture with its machinations and eye on the bottom line, influencing the decisions characters made. I was impressed with a fantasy world developed enough to show the economics driving it forward. Showing the business sensibility made the world and the characters and their motivations more believable. I appreciated that perspective especially because, full disclosure, I knew Stephen when I worked at AMACOM, a business books publisher. (As I read, I entertained us both with Twitter updates, mostly a running tally of how many times I stayed up too late or nearly missed subway stops because I was swept up in reading.)
About midway through The Dragon Round, the adventure and swashbuckling mood takes a decidedly darker turn, driven in part by Jeryon’s revenge, but also by digging deeper to unpack the economic motivations and machinations, shifting between characters’ perspectives. The first section of the book focuses tightly on the three shipwrecked island dwellers, raising the dragon and working for survival in an idyllic adventurous way. But Jeryon has revenge on his mind, against the crew members that put him there, which turns the story decidedly darker and more brutal as it concludes. Lots of scheming. And violence. Deserved violence, creatively plotted and well written, with newly introduced characters given enough time that their deaths make sense.
I won’t say more about the specifics of how the revenge is exacted, because I want you all to read this and be as surprised as I was by certain plot elements. (We’re talking “read and muffle shocked noises in public” surprised.) Note for the squeamish: The author deploys the same care and vividness describing dragon violence, as evoking island idylls. So yes, there are grisly bits. Not all of which involve the dragon.
An important note for fantasy readers: while I hear there’s a sequel in the works (yay!), the novel concludes with enough satisfaction to stand alone and end properly.
In sum: Excellently crafted fantasy novel, with lots of action and surprises, and some revenge-fueled gore. And dragons. You should read it.