Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dragon Prince, by Melanie Rawn [1]

*/***** (1/5)

Dragon Prince series (Rohan)
1. Dragon Prince (1/5)
2. The Star Scroll
3. Sunrunner's Fire

Dragon Star series (Rohan's son Pol)
1. Stronghold
2. The Dragon Token
3. Skybowl

Don't let the title of this book fool you, this book belongs to its Sunrunner heroine Sioned as she facilitates every major aspiration and/or accomplishment for our golden boy Rohan. In a fantasy book with substantial romantic inclinations, I wouldn't mind the emphasis on the heroine if I didn't find our hero Rohan's character so dithering, so wishy-washy, and, for lack of a better word, so "wussified." Our milksop hero Rohan whines about everything, he often gives moral soliloquies and the story arc primarily describes Rohan's evolution from an erudite 21 year-old idealist intent on peace like a 1960s hippie to a 27 year-old realist who whines about doing some rather "barbarian" things to protect the future of his family and people. In Part 3 entitled "Vengeance," Rohan's "brother-by-marriage" Chaynal assuages this evolution in Rohan's character, noting Rohan embodies hope to everyone because he (Rohan) examines and re-examines his actions and motivations. Evidently, this examination makes Rohan the good guy and his actions justified. I say it makes Rohan an annoying milksop. Like an imbecile, more than once Rohan resolves to never do what he's doing now ("Never again."). After he kills a dragon, he resolves, "Never again!" After waging a war in Part 3 when he's supposed to be more mature and worldly, there's also a naive "Never again!" Please, times change and who knows what actions the future may compel. Choose a course of action and get on with it, live with the consequences and learn from them. Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA (*) demonstrated I usually don't go for thematic fantasy stories where emotional angst, lessons and morals lurk behind every plot device. Please don't try to teach me and advise me on the nature of life and society. Lamentably, such is the case here in Melanie Rawn's romantic DRAGON PRINCE.

In my endless quest for an entertaining fusion between many different genres, this book reminded me of a another (better) romantic fantasy, that is, Joanne Bertin's THE LAST DRAGONLORD (****). I thought the prose, romance and political intrigue in Bertin's THE LAST DRAGONLORD surpassed Rawn's book here. I also thought the worldbuilding and magic system in Bertin's book were better. Both books however featured fairly weak heroes, and Bertin's awful sequel DRAGON AND PHOENIX (*) exacerbated the male characterizations. Male fantasy authors rarely write engaging female characters and fun romance while female fantasy authors write heroes who often irritate me. Unlike the romance genre, I actually liked that our hero Rohan here in DRAGON PRINCE isn't an older, experienced libertine, I liked that he isn't a redoubtable warrior, but his incessant dithering introspection really sucked the life out of any enjoyment Parts 1 & 2 may have engendered. We're told our hero Rohan is clever, a political mastermind of sorts, but I'm not sure what he accomplishes from Part 2 in the Rialla really amounts to all that much when it all goes to hell in Part 3 anyway. The book glosses over the details of his political maneuvering in the Rialla from Part 2 anyway and we're basically told he deftly effected many favorable agreements for his princedom. If you want a substantively unconventional male hero, check out Tyrion's political maneuvering from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (especially in A CLASH OF KINGS), or Locke Lamora in Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series. Tyrion and Locke are both incredibly hilarious and politically brilliant. Regrettably, Rohan fails to even approach the Tyrion and Locke's realm of brilliance and humor.

Rawn's DRAGON PRINCE also reminded me of Terry Goodkind's fairly repetitive and sermonizing Sword of Truth series (which I've never reviewed and probably never will). I can't express enough how addicted I was to Goodkind's fantasy/romance/adventure Sword of Truth series. I will always maintain that his opening installment WIZARD'S FIRST RULE (1994) was quite good and I really liked the fourth installment TEMPLE OF THE WINDS (1997) as well. His never-ending, repetitive saga crumbles starting from his fifth installment SOUL OF FIRE however. Anyhow, Goodkind is always looking to impart real-life lessons behind his fantasy plots. Similar to Goodkind's series, Rawn's morals and lessons here in the introspection and narrative drain the energy and plotting.

The Story.

In Rawn's fantasy world, I found the magic system both ambiguous and common compared to other fantasy books. Essentially a society of 'Sunrunners' or foradh'im travel along light to communicate across vast distances, conjure images, and the most powerful among the Sunrunners may call fire to destroy and devastate (though they're forbidden to kill and conveniently all the Sunrunners obey the rule). Distinctive colors identify each person in Rawn's world and Sunrunners see the unique colors of the person they're communicating with over vast distances. The sunrunner talent is mostly hereditary although it surfaces randomly in genealogies bereft of the talent. In the beginning of the story, our heroine Sioned is a powerful Sunrunner having earned 5 rings (each ring representing another notch in talent or power). Only the Lady of Goddess Keep, the Lady Andrade and Rohan's aunt, possesses 10 rings. Sunrunners train at the Goddess Keep, earning rings, experience and furthering their talents. Hackneyed for the fantasy genre, everything is made up of Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. Since Sunrunners utilize light and manipulate fire, they can't withstand traveling on a boat in water, an indication of Sunrunner talent. The people in Rawn's world, regardless of whether they possess the Sunrunner talent or not, primarily worship the Goddess. There are no kings here, and instead there exists various princedoms ruled by Princes. Our main antagonist is the High Prince Roelstra who resides over all the other princes and princedoms including his own, the Princemarch.

As the story begins, we're introduced to one of the most powerful princedoms, Prince Zehava's the Desert. Old, grizzled, and a beast among men, Zehava enjoys hunting dragons throughout his princedom and he embarks on killing his tenth dragon. When the ensuing battle between dragon and Prince Zehava lands Zehava in his deathbed, his heir 21 year-old Rohan come into power. Described as learned, clever and political mastermind, Rohan isn't the warrior like his brother-by-marriage Chay nor the dragon hunter like his famed father. In fact, Rohan loves dragons. Outside and above the princes' hierarchy, Rohan's aunt the Lady Andrade of Goddess Keep wishes to arrange a marriage between her pupil Sioned and the new Prince Rohan. Sioned has foreseen Rohan in the flames as a prophecy and finds herself half in love with him without having even met him. When Andrade presents Sioned to Rohan in the flames as well, our golden handsome loverboy is also in love. Part One, Faces in Fire, concludes with the onset of the Rialla a congregation of princes and lords who ratify various trade treaties and compromise on borders. The event culminates with (appropriately enough) Lastday Ceremonies consisting of weddings. Occurring every three years, the High Prince Roelstra oversees all dealings amongst princes at the Rialla. Maligned by seventeen daughters but not one male heir, the High Prince Roelstra, his mistress Palila and his legitimate daughters lanthe and Pandsala scheme to ensnare the new Prince Rohan in a marriage alliance during Rialla.

Part two, the Rialla, concludes with the end of the Rialla as Sioned and Rohan publicly acknowledge one another as husband and wife despite Roelstra's various plots. If Parts One and Two were mildly entertaining viewed as a romance with a fantasy context, Part Three "Vengeance" decidedly switches gears. I don't mind that bad stuff happens in this last part, but I found Rohan's introspective dithering, wishy-washy introspection and emotional angst unbearable as each irritating facet of his characterization multiplies hundred fold. Sioned is clearly the man in the relationship when she goes to whatever extreme necessary -- killing, for example -- to save and succor her husband Rohan. First, I find it implausible that prior to Sioned, no Sunrunner used his or her powers to harm or kill or possibly tilt the balance in a war. Talk about an idealistic utopia. Second, the emotional wedge between Sioned and Rohan as a result of lanthe's scheming seemed to magically disappear at the very end. We're told after the fact that they harmed each other but they eventually found their way back to each other. I also found events describing the war and its strategy very amateurish. Clearly this isn't Rawn's strong suit. There's too many domestic issues miring the plot having to do with Rohan's sister Tobin and her husband (Chay) and children. At times, Part 3 read as a chick fest, the men not really having much to do. Consider: lanthe's plot to trap Rohan, Sioned's revenge against lanthe, Tobin's domestic issues with her husband and children, Chianna, Pandsala and Lady Andrade, and even Feylin of Skybowl antagonizing Walvis and finally Rohan's Commander of his guards Maeta at Stronghold (a woman, of course). Even the final duel between Rohan and Roelstra was one of the poorest sword fights I've ever read, Sioned was intimately involved in it of course from miles away. Victorious, Sioned and Rohan promote new princes and lords. I thought the rosy ending was very unsatisfying and out of place following the emotional angst driving Sioned and Rohan apart earlier.

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