Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dragon and Phoenix, by Joanne Bertin [1]


A Very Disappointing Sequel after an Entertaining Debut

A Review, spoilers galore.

Unfortunately for me, Bertin’s DRAGON AND PHOENIX accentuates all the things I disliked about THE LAST DRAGONLORD while diminishing aspects of THE LAST DRAGONLORD I enjoyed thoroughly. I consider THE LAST DRAGONLORD an endearing, an enjoyable reading experience, even for guys. However, I found DRAGON AND PHOENIX a jarring, if not offensive, read. Male characterizations don’t get much worse than the ones we find in DRAGON AND PHOENIX.

Gone is the romantic characterization of Maurynna Kyrissaean, a girl who dares to dream of loving her lifelong hero in THE LAST DRAGONLORD. However, we can hardly fault Bertin for this since Maurynna lands her hero by the end of THE LAST DRAGONLORD. Gone are the well-crafted humorous and romantic scenes from THE LAST DRAGONLORD, it’s down to business in DRAGON AND PHOENIX. Gone is the lighthearted, pleasant tone of the LAST DRAGONLORD. And I wouldn’t describe the conspiratorial events in an oriental Jehanglan as politically intriguing. They were drab, inelegant and lumbering, the characters therein entirely uninteresting. Not that THE LAST DRAGONLORD’s “political intrigue” in Casna was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but its political backdrop was certainly a few levels above this novel’s.

I was disinterested by all the “story arcs” in Jehanglan, even the climax of the story from there when Shei-Luin kills the Emperor was meh. I thought our hero Linden was thoroughly effeminated with a fair amount of estrogen. I’ve rarely read a weaker, dumber, more sensitive male character than Linden Rathan. I found Rathan (Linden’s dragon soul) very interesting from the last book, so full of rage and mirth. We don’t see Rathan in DRAGON AND PHOENIX until the very end, and only for a couple paragraphs.

Raven’s entire behavior from beginning to end was baffling and inexplicable. And I thought it’s girls I’d never understand, but I’d pin our young boy Raven’s personality and behavior as though of a pregnant woman.

If you thought THE LAST DRAGONLORD jumped around between too many characters while adding little, if nothing, to the plot, you’ll find DRAGON AND PHOENIX compounds the issue tenfold. I didn’t realize it in THE LAST DRAGONLORD, but it’s apparent from DRAGON AND PHOENIX that Bertin _really_ likes writing 2,3,4,5-paragraph passages from a wide number of character perspectives. The goal of these passages: accelerate the momentum of the novel, make the novel a page-turner; perhaps these desultory passages _do_ meet that goal, but maybe not the way it was intended.

The worldbuilding of Jehanglan? Nonexistent, if not downright callow, so you need only read a sentence or two from a character’s dialogue in order to gleam the gist of the passage. But worldbuilding isn’t Bertin’s strength anyway, THE LAST DRAGONLORD will testify to that. The point is, too many disjoint, amorphous and insubstantial passages from a whole army of character perspectives in Jehanglan paralyze the plot rather than driving it forward.

As bad as the male characterizations in THE LAST DRAGONLORD were, they deteriorate to new lows in DRAGON AND PHOENIX. I found the Linden Rathan characterization in DRAGON AND PHOENIX worst of all and very crippling to the entire novel. It’s clear that Linden Rathan represents a girl’s perfect guy: broad-shouldered, deep voice, big, shoulder-length blond hair and a buttock-length braid signifying his heritage as a Yerrin. He’s as dense, as stupid and as dumb as ever, traits clearly carried from the last novel. For all intents and purposes, Linden Rathan is Maurynna’s love-sick lapdog. In =every= sentence, Linden includes “Maurynna-love” or “love.” Again, big, tall, deep voice, obedient, servile, understanding and an overbearing feminine sensitivity. Oh and let’s not forget, a complete halfwit.

You may wonder how I find Linden both understanding and dumb at the same time. Well, he’s understanding/sensitive about everything having to do with Maurynna while completely dense about any of any plots, until of course the last minute, where enlightenment comes to him all at once in one paragraph! Like Baisha’s plot to betray the dragonlords and their companions. Not only a nitwit, once again there’s no on-screen evidence of Linden Rathan’s so-called skill with the sword.

Let’s run through these rather appealing traits in Linden Rathan with examples from the book, shall we?

At one point in the novel there’s three – yes, I kid you not, three – paragraphs on Linden thinking how he can’t control Maurynna’s life after he hears that she must travel to Jehanglan. He fears for her safety, but our Linden Rathan understands that he can’t imprison her either. He drones on and on about it. Since Maurynna can’t Change again, Lady of the Dragonskeep orders her to remain at the Dragonskeep lest she’ll endanger herself. Maurynna feels jailed and longs for the sea from her life as Captain of the Sea Mist, but the Lady of the Dragonskeep refuses. Unbeknownst to Maurynna, Linden pleads to the Lady almost every day, asking the Lady to allow Maurynna to sail and see her family and friends one last time, with the Lady refusing each time. How considerate of Linden, though, right?! Thanks for playing, Linden, buddy, maybe next time!

When Otter comments that truehuman life spans are to dragonlord lifetimes “like moths in a flame,” Maurynna recoils, and yes, our compassionate, sensitive Linden Rathan is right there to slip a hand underneath her cloak for comfort. For that matter, whenever Maurynna is emotionally or physically pained, our sensitive hero says and does all the right things like a happy, servile lapdop!

This emotional understanding and compassion Linden constantly feels for Maurynna can’t be from their soultwin bond since Kyrissaean has shut herself off from that sort of magical connection, right? Must be a one-way street, because Maurynna fails to show the affection, compassion, understanding, and swarming devotion Linden relentlessly exhibits for Maurynna. Even during unromantic, business conversations, Linden abuses the appellations “love” or “Maurynna-love” mercilessly. After Linden suffers a badly bruised shoulder from a Llysathian being hauled up to a ship, Maurynna is pretty much unconcerned.

When Raven makes a move for Maurynna alone in the stables, Linden “understands” and lets it go. When Raven uses every opportunity to gloat over Linden on some piece of knowledge or decision, Linden lets all of that go too, respecting Raven’s feeling for Maurynna. Wow, Linden is nothing if not the virtue of understanding and sensitivity.

When they learn that after arriving in Jehanglan, Maurynna & Raven must venture off alone without Linden, Linden is enraged and fearful for Maurynna beyond belief. He destroys a wine goblet, and walks out of the room. Maurynna soon follows. On the stairwell outside Linden, in the midst of his fury, suddenly remembers his manners, and makes room on the steps for her! I love it! When Linden mentions he hopes she will never come to know how much it hurts for him to agree to this, she calmly answers, “I know,” and explains how she had gone through a similar thing during the climax of THE LAST DRAGONLORD because it hurt to feel the danger Linden would be in. Interesting to note that unlike Linden in similar circumstances, there’s no coddling or comforting touches on Maurynna’s part here, just a patronizing “I know.” In true lapdog fashion, Linden shortly thereafter acquiesces. Nice pointless display of anger to no end. So, so, _sooooo_ very understanding of Linden to take it all so well and take it on good faith from the Seer truedragon Morlen that only Maurynna can go into the mountain to free the imprisoned truedragon there.

Screw everything else, why not do something because you want to for a change, not because you’re supposed from a prophecy and definitely not because someone else wants you to? If you really believe Maurynna will be in danger and you want to help, find a way to make it happen! Linden doesn’t show any spirit, any personal volition. A perfect, servile lapdog for Maurynna.

In Stormhaven, when you thought it wasn’t possible for Linden to play the servile lapdog any better than he already was, guess again. When Maurynna sees her extended family the Erdons for the first, she finds they all behave differently now that she’s a dragonlord. Linden is always there for a comforting arm-around-the-waist or some or words of assurance with the obligatory “love” or “Maurynna-love.” There’s little purpose to Linden’s presence here. It’s Maurynna who fends off a mean uncle (Darijen) from Raven, it’s Maurynna who intercepts Raven’s father blow intended for his son with lightning-quick dragonlord speed. But let’s not forget Linden is there for a good’ole arms-around-the-waist! Linden goes insofar as to talk to Maurynna’s nice uncle (Kesselandt) so he’d address Maurynna as “dear” instead of “Your Grace.” Wow, that Linden, he’s swell! I think I’ll go throw up now….

An effeminated Linden pouts insufferably over being separated from Maurynna after it finally happens. More than Maurynna! As though Linden needed more estrogen in his body…

The pinnacle of Linden’s idiocy comes when something he feels a sneaking suspicion that keeps taunting him regarding something Taren/Baisha said, but he just can’t put a finger on it. In this case, Linden is sufficiently pampering Maurynna in their quarters when he’s thinking about something Taren and the Dragonkeep archivist (librarian) said earlier. Next thing you know, Linden dreams of ferrets and how they looked like mages herding rabbits. In a =shocking= moment of revelation (gasp!!), it dawns on Linden that Jehanglan has priest mages and they’re drawing magic from the imprisoned dragon to ward off would-be attackers. Linden promptly arrives at the Lady’s apartment next morning to share his brilliant discovery! The Lady of the Dragonkeep and the other truedragons however already know. Aweee, thanks for playing, Linden, better luck next time, buddy! Uh what was the point of all that, couldn’t we just have learned about the Jehanglan priests and their sorcery earlier when the truedragon Morlen and the Lady are talking about it? Why go to such great lengths to make Linden out to be such blockhead?!

Linden’s ineptitude with sword, magic and dragon continues from THE LAST DRAGONLORD. Linden Rathan is weak beyond belief. We’re constantly _told_ how Linden is a remarkable soldier, a formidable mercenary and a great sword, but we simply find no evidence of it in the books. Of course I’m not sure if combat writing is one of Joanne Bertin’s fortes.

Nobody likes the damsel in distress storyline, and it seems like these dragonlord books goes to great lengths to make the damsel’s slippers fit Linden’s feet. Our young, headstrong heroine – Maurynna – scoffs at the notion of being saved from anything.

Towards the beginning, Morlen the truedragon attempts to mindspeak Kyrissaean, Maurynna’s dragon self. When that doesn’t go well, Morlen calls to Linden to come quickly for help for his soultwin looks to be in danger. Linden jumps out of the window from a cliff, and then all the characters judiciously note how trying to Change while in motion is dangerous. For over a page, the person really in danger becomes Linden as he struggles beyond comprehension to Change and take flight away from the cliff. Linden expends an exorbitant amount of energy and effort to Change but he finally manages. Then he unfortunately scratches his wing against the cliff bleeding all over. When he arrives at the meadow where 5 truedragons and Maurynna are, the danger to Maurynna has already passed and now Maurynna must save Linden. Maurynna screams for Linden to not attack, he has no chance against that many truedragons, one truedragon is a more than a match for a dragonlord. Linden though finally Changes back to human form and Maurynna rushes to him, saving our Captain Genius yet again. Linden once again has accomplished =nothing= . Thanks for playing though Linden, please try again!

Maurynna is able to sense well in advance when something is about to go badly for Linden. Linden cannot do that for Maurynna and instead usually ends up getting himself into trouble.

After it’s decided that Raven will travel with Maurynna alone to the mountain in Jehanglan, Linden teaches both Raven and Maurynna how to fight. Conveniently, we find no actual scenes of Linden proficiently using the sword or teaching someone else with it.

At one point, Raven – a truehuman – is capable to sneak up on Linden and his heightened dragonlord senses without a single problem with a sword intent to kill. Linden calmly explains how everything will be alright, relaying a story from his childhood when Linden wanted to kill his father but didn’t. Sooo understanding, sooo inept to let Raven walk up to him like that. It appears the goal here is to use Linden’s incompetence to begin softening Raven so Raven won’t betray Linden & Maurynna later on.

The other male characters are stalkers/nothing-is-wrong friends (Raven), or villains (Taren, Jhanun, Haoro) or obedient, stupid lapdogs similar to Linden (Xiane, Yesuin, Lleld’s soultwin Jekkanadar). Among these, Raven’s characterization especially makes no sense. He’s hot/cold, angry/warm, friend/foe like a pregnant woman. In the beginning, he’s very antagonistic towards Linden and makes a move on Maurynna. When Maurynna throws him away, Raven is cold with anger. Next thing we know, all 3 are together, learning languages and sword like nothing ever happened. He’s pleasantly calling Maurynna “beanpole” after storming away when Maurynna puts her foot down that he can’t accompany her to the Iron Temple for what she must do (“Dragonlord’s orders”). At the very end of the novel, Linden, Raven and Maurynna are joking like old friends like nothing ever happened. Uh, okayyyyy, I must of have missed something.

In DRAGON AND PHOENIX, even Maurynna’s characterization dulls considerably from the last novel. She just isn’t fun to fun to read anymore, she’s brooding about going back to sea or how she can’t Change again or how she’s a pretty weak and insignificant dragonlord since she can’t Change. This sulking over one’s insignificance (“I’m the least of the dragonlords”) is a common ruse employed by a lot authors to make a character feel insubstantial when it’s glaringly obvious they’re the key to the entire plot and will perform a powerful act during the climax, when it counts the most.

Maurynna didn’t know anything about the political plots in THE LAST DRAGONLORD, and she was a fledgling then. Yet, after her first Change she manages to save Linden by torching a dragauth _and_ kill the primary antagonist in that novel, a powerful mage.

With DRAGON AND PHOENIX, simply rinse and repeat this formula. Although she doesn’t save Linden per say in this novel, she does finally manage to Change during the climax and heal Linden at the end.

Lleld is insanely annoying. I don’t think there’s a single redeeming quality about Lady Mayhem.

The Story, a quick summary.

With a billion character arcs from Jehanglan, none of them end satisfactorily, and I didn’t even care about any of’em.

Basically there’s a prophecy. Companions must travel to a faraway, unknown land (Jehanglan), where One Who Holds the Key (Maurynna) must separate from the others. The One Who Holds the Key is our typical, underrated character and she must travel to the depths of a Mountain in enemy territory where only she can perform a task. While the One awaits certain death from her enemies wading across the stream, there’s a magic flood which wipes out her enemies ultimately saveing the One. There’s someone within the companionship who will betray them.

Any of this sound familiar?

Unlike LORD OF THE RINGS however, one of the groups split up from the One has nothing to do until the One completes her task in the Mountain.

Overall, a very unsatisfying reading experience, even torturous at times.

1 comment:

Julie Burgess Wells said...

Dragon and Phoenix is the second part of a series of books that Joanne Bertin is working on. The third and latest installation is called Bard's Oath. Joanne Bertin's books are based on the mythical, magical and always enticing world of dragon fantasy. The theme she works on include "dragonlords", "truehumans" and "truedragon. Dragon fantasy may be a vast and popular subject but Joanne Bertin's and Beyond This Point There Be Dragons are the only good books i've read.

Her first in the series, The last Dragonlord ever since it released in 1998 has received a lot of acclaim. The protagonists Linden Rathan and Maurynna Kyrissaean, Linden 's soultwin are back to take you on a better and greater adventure. Join the two and get entangled in a fanstastical journey where bravery and wit are tested.