(cover from Amazon.com)
Dog and Dragon (2012) by Dave Freer is the sequel to his 2009 fantasy, Dragon's Ring, which really impressed me.
As I said then, I knew that Freer could write appealing characters, but the book surprised me by being a lot better than I expected. This book, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected, and that's both good and bad.
The main characters are the same - with the possible exception of the dog, which gets a lot more attention here - and they're still appealing. The book begins right where Dragon's Ring left off, and you know exactly what to expect.
But that's kind of the downside, too, because you know exactly what to expect from the book, right from the start. The first book surprised me because it was better than I expected. But one thing this one will never do is surprise you.
Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. It's a fast, easy read, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters again. If you liked the first book, you'll probably like this one. But I really hope he's not going to write a series of these. Freer can do better than this.
As I said, the main characters are still appealing, and so are the minor characters. Dave Freer has a real knack for writing characters we care about. But this is really a generic fantasy, even more than the first book (which had some features I particularly liked).
You could write the plot for this one in your sleep, and I kind of hate to see Freer waste his talent that way. I'm not going to tell you what that plot is, because that will give away the ending of the first book, and I hate to write spoilers. But let me just say that, if you've read the first book, you'll know exactly where this one goes.
Of course, sequels generally have the problem that readers already know a great deal about the characters and their world, so sequels are rarely as good as the initial book. It takes a really good author to overcome that - someone like Lois McMaster Bujold, for example.
She does it by finding new things to tell us about her characters and her world, and also by introducing additional characters - important characters - as the series continues, characters who also develop as she finds new things to tell us about them, too.
In Dog and Dragon, the world is actually new, but it's very generic and quite a bit like the old one. The main characters are the same, and Freer doesn't find anything new to tell us. They're still appealing, but we already got to know them in the first book.
The minor characters are appealing, too, but most of them are very minor. And as in the first book, there's no way to become attached to most of them, or to any particular setting, either. For the most part, Freer's primary characters move through their worlds without becoming attached to anything but each other.
I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I enjoyed this book. I sat down and read it in a single day. And if you enjoyed the first book, too, you'll probably enjoy this one. But it's like cotton candy - not much substance to it. So it's also a bit disappointing.
As I said about Dragon's Ring, I'd like to see Freer turn to science fiction for his next book. Fantasy tends to be pretty light-weight anyway, and I'd like to see his characters set into a world with more substance.
At the very least, I'd like to see his characters develop ties, instead of moving through their lives like characters from a television series, encountering new people and new problems every week without becoming attached to any of them.
Yes, Freer can write appealing characters, but does he have anything important to tell us about the human condition? Does he have anything important to tell us about... anything much? Entertainment is great, but I'm not a huge fan of cotton candy. How about some meat?
And Dragon's Ring was really quite impressive. He showed a lot of promise there, even more than in A Mankind Witch, which I also enjoyed. (Sorry, no review of that one.) There were small parts of Dragon's Ring which really added to the experience.
So I have a lot of hope for Dave Freer. I don't want him to turn into another Piers Anthony (as lucrative as that might be for him). I think he can do better than that, and better than this.
Dog and Dragon was fun enough for an idle afternoon, and I hope he makes some money from it. But I also hope he thinks about what he's doing next time. I hope he challenges himself. He knows how to write appealing characters, and that's very important to me. But that needs to be only the start of writing good fiction.