Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner
|Book Name:||Dragon Hunters|
|Publisher(s):||Titan Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||February 2016|
The first book in Marc Turner’s Chronicles of Exile series, When The Heavens Fall, got an array of positive reviews when it was released in 2015. We found it to be a Malazan style epic with nods to the fantasy of days gone by. Although this hit the spot for readers who like the big, sprawling epics being written by authors such as Erikson and co, there were undoubtedly a few groans from readers who were more keen on today’s lighter, more action-packed, gritty tales. So, what did Marc Turner do in response? He wrote a novel that falls right on trend and that doesn’t require you to have read the first in order to enjoy. The learning curve is massively reduced, we’ve assassins and killers on almost every page, deadly political plots, an array of complex characters offering varied points of view and a level of humour that makes the prose almost seamless. Oh, and there are Dragons. Big ones. Huge in fact! And they’re really, really pissed.
We begin the tale with Senar Sol, a Guardian who was immediately arrested after travelling to the novel’s nautical setting via magical portal. He is your typical well-worn, fed up of being a good guy, ageing warrior character – not a million miles from Logan Nine Fingers. Much of the world building is done through Senar’s eyes and that makes perfect sense: he is new to this world and is, therefore, constantly learning and judging the actions of the locals.
The first of these locals with any great impact on the story is Emira Imerle Bolivar (Imerle most often) who is currently in charge of the powerful water mages known as the Storm Lords – they rule an empire known as the Storm Isles. Rules dictate that Imerle must soon stand down, but having enjoyed her stint at the top she doesn’t feel obliged. Imerle is a powerful character whose point of view is kept from us, so we never know what her full intentions are. What we do know is that she has a plan in place to extend her reign.
This is all thrown into chaos, however, when the other Storm Lords start arriving for one of the busiest, most chaotic times in the city… Dragon Day. During this event, the huge Dragon Gate will be opened and one of the ferocious Sea Dragons will be allowed to pass through. In a show of their strength, watched by thousands, the Storm Lords will use their immense magical powers to defeat the dragon. The majority of the Storm Lords seem fully aware of Imerle’s reluctance to stand down though, and the chaos of Dragon Day and the huge number of people in the city serves as the perfect distraction for assassination attempts and secretive political manoeuvres.
That is essentially the main story: will Imerle survive the plots against her and how will she legitimise her rule should she find a way to extend it.
Beyond Imerle’s storyline there are plenty more plots to keep you entertained and that overlap with each other eventually. Kempis Parr is a Storm Guard (the equivalent of a detective). He is on the hunt for an assassin who has been killing water mages known as drifters and who has always managed to evade him by a couple of paces. Kempis is a reluctant hero, his positive morals seem to have been worn away by working for so many years within a setting so crooked, where his leaders are breaking far bigger laws than those he is meant to be locking away. This is another talent of Marc Turner’s – the ability to have you believe each character has an extensive past which has built the person they are today. Just like his settings, everything feels fell thought out and has a plausible explanation for it being there / being the case. Kempis’s sarcasm and weariness make for entertaining reading and his chapters are amongst the ones most likely to make you laugh.
Karmel Flood is an assassin and thief who can go invisible so long as she isn’t moving, an aptly named: Chameleon Priestess. If the humour comes from Kempis, the action comes from Karmel’s scenes. Whether she is fighting or breaking into somewhere, there is rarely an eventless page when you are following her POV. Being relatively new to the field, Karmel is forced into realising that having all the book smarts and controlled practice she has isn’t an automatic key to success in real situations and under true pressure. This is a very interesting way that the author creates humour and tension: Karmel has trained to be the best assassin the world has even seen, but it’s not quite as easy as the books make out. As well as this conflict, Karmel has a complex relationship with her brother and this kind of layered complexity to Karmel and the world around her is typical of Marc Turner’s writing.
Taking these family complexities to another level is Agenta Webb. She is a sailer who arrives in Olaire in the company of her father. A ship of theirs has gone missing in an area supposedly under the Storm Lords protection and they visit Storm Lord Imerle in order to gain compensation for the ship and the supplies upon it, totalling a fair amount of money. When Imerle turns them away, the two decide upon a more complicated plot to retrieve the money they are owed. The dynamic between Agenta and her father is a sad one. Agent’s mother and brother have recently passed and you get the feeling that the two of them worked as a kind of mediator between Agenta and her father who very different people and less close to each other. Each deals with the deaths in a very different way and a way that frustrates the other. The fact is that all each has left in the world is the other and yet there is a palpable bitterness that they must overcome if they are ever to appreciate that.
Can I think of any negatives? Well, when you are writing an epic fantasy and trying to keep it fun and humorous there is a very fine balance between: being a modern take of Dragonlance and being Dragonlance. There are times when Marc Turner skirts dangerously close to being cheesy enough to have you roll your eyes instead of laugh, but these are fairly rare and so the jolt is pretty minor. I also suppose I could point to parts in the story where I felt the characters and their missions were all getting very separated and although this never slows the novel down too much, it did make it feel a little less inter-connected than I, personally, would have liked.
Overall though, this is a fantastic novel by Marc Turner. You’ve got an array of interesting characters who all take you down completely different paths and who all have unique voices to relay their stories with. Whilst you listen, there is the constant ticking of a bomb in the background that will go off the moment Imerle makes her claim for power or gets assassinated/locked up. Then there are the constant slams of huge Sea Dragons smashing their heads against the Dragon Gate and reminding us that a huge and epic battle of mage versus dragon awaits us if only we are to read a little faster. Smart, fun, full of adventure and with an explosive finale – Dragon Hunters is confirmation that Marc Turner is here to stay and he can write in whatever sub-genre he fancies.