Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Dragon's Ring" by Dave Freer

I'm mostly familiar with Dave Freer from his many collaborations with Eric Flint, my favorites probably being the funny, and very entertaining, Rats, Bats, and Vats and its sequel, The Rats, the Bats, and the Ugly, (which is probably even better than the first).

But Flint is one of my favorite authors, and you never really know how much a co-author is responsible for the final product.

A few years ago, I took a chance on Freer's A Mankind Witch, and I was quite impressed. But that's set in the Heirs of Alexandria series of historical fantasy, which he developed with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey. True, he was the sole author of this particular book, and the setting and the characters were mostly different, but I still had to wonder about this author coming up with something entirely on his own.

And frankly, Dragon's Ring didn't sound very good. I get pretty sick of the cliches in fantasy, so nothing with dragons sounds very appealing to me these days. And a ring? Really?

Still, I've learned to give a good author the benefit of the doubt. Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge it by the title, either. And I've got to say I was very happy with Dragon's Ring.

Freer seems to have a real knack for writing appealing characters, and that's of critical importance for me, especially in fantasy. In this case, Meb - the unknowing mage, raised in a fishing village - is great. And the book starts out with a bang, as raiders attack her village. It caught my interest immediately and kept it throughout the book.

The dragons are also interesting, with understandable motives (including the reason behind their love of gold). And the "ring" isn't actually a piece of jewelry. I suspect that "Dragon's Ring" was meant to be... um, sardonic? To some extent, at least. Just a mild joke on the whole "ring of power" fantasy cliche. But since I was expecting a cliche, it actually made me less likely to buy the book in the first place.

There were a couple of things, in addition to the main character, I particularly liked about Dragon's Ring. Through most of the book, we know more than Meb does. But there are a number of things going on in the background that aren't clear to the reader, either. Those things come together later in the book.

Now, this can work great if the author can pull it off. And Freer did exactly that. I was very impressed. After all, I can see many ways that sort of maneuver could fail horribly. But Freer kept it interesting, kept those behind-the-scenes incidents short, and kept me from getting confused at what was going on. I was very impressed by that.

Another thing I liked - a minor issue, admittedly - is that Meb's stepbrothers behaved like brothers. As an infant, Meb was pulled from the sea, so she was the subject of some superstition even when no one knew she could work magic. So I was afraid I could see another cliche coming when she was reunited with her stepbrothers.

But to my mind, they acted exactly like brothers would act (or, perhaps, should act). Well, maybe it's just me, but I thought Freer got this exactly right.

I really enjoyed Dragon's Ring. If I have any qualms at all about the book, it's that the fantasy is somewhat generic. But I have that problem with almost all fantasy. Again, maybe it's just me. This book was very entertaining, but there wasn't much sense of wonder. It takes a really exceptional fantasy for that.

So I'd really like to see Dave Freer try his hand at science fiction. Yes, he wrote Slow Train to Arcturus with Eric Flint, but I'd like to see what he can do on his own. Still, I'll probably buy whatever he writes next, because I've definitely been well entertained so far.

No comments: