About the Book
Melanie Rawn's best-selling debut is a novel of love and war, magic and madness, and deadly dangerous dragons that hold the secret to unimaginable wealth that could prove key to mutual peace-or a bloody tyrant's reign. And among it all, an idealistic young ruler struggles to civilize a culture that understands the strength of the sword-but has yet to discover the true power of knowledge
There has to be something said for an author who isn’t afraid to take memorable, emotionally compelling characters and really put them through the ringer. It takes strength for an author to attach their readers to a character and then take that same character and put them through turmoil. Furthermore, it’s quite a gamble. While many authors will put their characters through physical battles, there’s almost never really any doubt how it will all end. However, when the plot is emotionally charged and the battleground is on a more personal level, some readers are lost along with a lot of the certainty many are used to.
Thus, I should congratulate Melanie Rawn for making that gamble with her characters. It was a bold move, and for many, it paid off.
That being said, Dragon Prince is a more emotional book than anything else. While it did have some action scenes, the main protagonists rely on brains rather than brawns and the physical action seem to take a back seat to the character and relationship development. This is a positive and negative. In one respect, the reader will almost undoubtedly become very attached to the cast and crew of characters and when something happens to one of them, the reader will probably feel it very keenly. On another level, it throws a speed bump in the overall world building.
Rawn was obviously going for a sprawling world full of complex politics and deep-rooted history. Her intense focus on the emotional buildup of the characters and plot affected her world building by creating a somewhat patchy world wherein certain parts of it seemed much more real and vividly realized than others. In fact, there were vast swaths of Rawn’s world that are mentioned but never fully understood, where only a vague mental picture can be scrawled up about the scene and culture.
It should be noted that romance does take center stage from very early on in Dragon Prince. While true love is found, Rawn keeps it classy and if it does smack of cliché, it is easy to forgive. Though much of the first part of the book deals with an intricate political dance, it’s always quite obvious where it will end up, which makes the first half of the book rather predictable. Though despite its predictability, Rawn uses the first portion of Dragon Prince to build up deeper themes regarding power and authority that will ring through the novel as a whole.
The characters are interesting and well done, if a bit cookie-cutter. The protagonists are a little too predictable. The villain is a little too villainous. The women fall into every girl-needs-to-produce-sons-to-survive cliche imaginable and yes, this is slightly frustrating. If Rawn had, perhaps, stepped out of these comfort zones with her characterization, Dragon Prince could have cut one of the many chains which bind it firmly to the three star zone.
Six years pass between the first half of the book and the second. This is, perhaps, my greatest complaint about this work as a whole. While the break was necessary for the overall plot, it gave Dragon Prince a somewhat contrived air. Furthermore, the tight plot and interesting characterization falters in the second half. The characters seem far more lackluster and easier to feel neutral about. This really is a pity, as Rawn obviously worked hard to build up what she had gained in the first half only to let it come tumbling down in the second. While there are some redeeming aspects in the second half, and a bit more maturity, by and large it lacks what the first half gained, making Dragon Prince, on the whole, seem rather unbalanced.
Dragon Prince was first published in 1988, and I’m sure that for its time it was incredibly unique, daring and bold, I couldn’t escape the thought as I read it that I’ve read many of these ideas before in other books. The magic system, while unique, smacks of many other magic systems I’ve read elsewhere. The mental and political maneuvering was interesting, but it had nothing on anything I’ve read from K.J. Parker. Perhaps all of these more recent authors have used Rawn as an influence in their own work, or perhaps Dragon Prince really isn’t that unique in the grand scope of things.
While the story is interesting and very emotionally charged and compelling, the book never quite reaches the heights I’m sure Rawn was trying to reach. The world building was patchy, the book is full of clichés, and parts of the plot were grossly predictable. However, Rawn’s smooth narrative flow and descriptive style of writing will work well to suck in readers interested in character driven, intensely emotional plots. Despite the flaws I have listed, she managed to keep Dragon Prince interesting and if it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, it’s also not a book I regret reading.