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Spine of the Dragon
Wake the Dragon #1
by Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, $26.99, 526 pages
Published: June 2019

As a  storm approaches the royal city of  Bannriya in the kingdom of Suddera, the young king Adan Starfall, his wife Penda, and a retinue of servants ride out to ensure the city and its denizens are as prepared and safe as they can be. Adan has a premonition that the storm is more than mere sand and wind, for he has the strange sense that it is a harbinger of doom. How right he is.

Out of the desert ride creatures out of myth. Sandwreth were believed extinct, and yet here they are, and they come not with mede-ean gifts but with demands and tales of obligation that bind humans to their service.  Meanwhile, in the colder reaches of the north, frostreth are suddenly making their presence known to the kingdoms of men.

Sandwreth and frostwreth have, at once, a common purpose concerning a mythical dragon, and an intense rivalry; and all wreths want to employ, or coerce, humans to do their scut work as well as anything life-threatening. Some of the wreth are masters of intimidation and deception; unfortunately, most of the humans haven’t twigged to that, and that makes them susceptible to beguilement. But eventually a few humans put the facts together and reach the unpleasant conclusion that the wreth may be more dangerous than any dragon ever was or could be.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is how characters are depicted, with distinct personalities and behaviors. My favorites are the central pair, Adan Starfall and Penda; the orphan girl, Glik; and Shella din Orr, the wise woman of the nomadic Utauk; but there are plenty of appealing characters, and a few despicable ones, who are just as enjoyable.

I didn’t entirely buy into the premise of humans having been created to be slaves for the wreth, however.  Is this meant to be Earth, and are these are 23-paired-chromosome humans? This story may have more internal consistency than a certain Bible’s account of creation, but it is at odds with what I was taught in science and history classes, so I experienced a certain dissonance. It seemed to me as if the author were playing a shell game: “See! They are us! Therefore you must identify with them and sympathize with them, and oh, by the way, here is this brand spanking new explanation of how they/we came to be!” Or perhaps “human” is supposed to be a generic term for a culturally diverse species.

The story takes some satisfying twist and turns and dives, with some good climactic confrontations. And while it doesn’t conclude on a cliff’s edge, the plot is definitely heading towards a new precipice with a teaser for the sequel.  So if you are casting about for a new epic fantasy, this looks to be shaping up into a gratifyingly complex epic.  – Chris Wozney

For other titles by Kevin J Anderson click here

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