First thing: that’s a hell of a cover.
Second thing: stick around through the completion of the review because Angry Robot has supplied us with 5 COPIES of The Dragon Engine to give away. According to Angry Robot, the books can be shipped internationally. One winner per household. 5 total winners.
I don’t typically read Grimdark. I have seen George R. R. Martin listed as a Grimdark author, and I’ve read him. Some others, too. However, after reading Remic’s The Dragon Engine, I’m starting to wonder if Martin’s monochrome rainbow of humiliation and violence isn’t nearly grim or dark enough for the classification. Martin’s characters–well, some of them–have redeemable qualities. There isn’t much to redeem many of the characters of The Dragon Engine. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily.
The first chapter doesn’t really prepare the reader for what eventually comes in this novel. It started out feeling a little bit like a Dragonlance book: adventurers meet together in a tavern to reminisce about the good old days in the military. They plan an epic adventure together, to journey to the supposedly abandoned Dwarven kingdom to retrieve some priceless artifacts that just might provide immortality.
We have the bombastic, axe-wielding warrior, Beetrax the Axeman. The best of all archers, Talon. The swift ninja assassin, Sakora. The lordling swordsman and former Champion of the Guard, Dake, and his not-good-enough-for-daddy wife, Jonti Tal, a former soldier as well. And finally, the magical healer, Lillith, whose gentle femininity is a foil to Beetrax’s masculine bravado. This first chapter reminds me an awful lot of some well-written Pathfinder campaigns I have witnessed. It isn’t particularly dark or grim. The book can go anywhere from here. And it goes dark.
From this point forward, though, we’ve got some really heavy stuff happening. Rape, abuses of power, torture porn, psychopaths coming out the wazoo, and hyper-violence: brains and blood and guts galore. Warriors reciting cheesy poetry, a Church of Hate and a Church of Purity, assassins and slavery and plentiful use of the sort of language my mom used when I was growing up. The sort that got Zest bar soap, or maybe Irish Spring, rubbed into my teeth if I repeated it. You know the sort.
The abandoned places are not abandoned. The Dwarves have been driven by an intense form of isolationism, germinated by their former status as the slaves to men. The Dwarves, though, have in turn ensaved the Dragons. And the dragons are not pleased.
Everything here is amplified: the hate is the deepest hate, the pain is the most excruciating pain, the love is the loveist doveyiest love, the death is the bloodiest death.
Ultimately, I need to say that this wasn’t my sort of book. I read a lot of epic fantasy, military fantasy, modern and urban fantasy. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but this wasn’t it. I think there are some people who will love this book, and I hope they read it. There’s a lot here to like, and I know several people who would hack off their left arm for a copy of this book.
The Dragon Engine is written by Andy Remic. It is published by Angry Robots Books. Release date: September 1, 2015.