Title: The Adamantine Palace
Author: Stephen Deas
Publishing Date: March 19, 2009
Paperback: 384 pages
Stand Alone or series: first in a planned trilogy
Summary: The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemicly was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-players that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses. The Empire has grown fat. And now one man wants it for himself. A man prepared to poison the king just as he has poisoned his own father. A man prepared to murder his lover and bed her daughter. A man fit to be king? But uknown to him there are flames on the way. A single dragon has gone missing. And even one dragon on the loose, unsubdued, returned to its full intelligence, its full fury, could spell disaster for the Empire. But because of the actions of one unscrupulous mercenary the rivals for the throne could soon be facing hundreds of dragons . . .
Why did I read the book: I have seen this around in book stores for a while now and I had been eyeing it for its pretty, pretty cover and because of the good reviews it got all around the internets (I am NOT that shallow). To my utter delight, I got a review copy from the publisher about two weeks ago!
The Adamantine Palace starts with a bang: right in its prologue, a Prince kills a Queen and in doing so, sets the story in motion. This act is a preface and a portent of what the reader can expect from the book: the machinations of power-hungry, ruthless characters.
In this world, Queens and Kings (and Princes and Princesses and Knights) of different realms compete for power. Their strongholds are all over the land and their influence (or lack of) is directly connected to one special place at the heart of each domain: the eyrie. Where Dragons are hatched and nurtured to the point where they are bonded to a Rider. They are the very thing that empower the Dragon-Kings and Queens and as such are precious commodities, in war, in hunting or even as a product up for sale (although the sale is not straight-forward and involves years of grooming the owner of the Dragon with generous gifts) . The Dragons are expertly controlled with the help of Alchemists (and potions) and are for all intents and purposes, awesome and dangerous yet mindless, tamed creatures.
At the center of it all rests The Adamantine Palace , where the Speaker resides. This position of power will be up for grabs very shortly and both Queen Shezira and Prince Jehal are lined-up to take it. Their competition for the place is only one of the aspects of their relationship. Soon, they will be related as one of Queen Shezira’s daughters will be marrying Jehal. As part of the betrothal, Shezira is presenting Jehal with a unique White Dragon, a symbol of her power and a sign of how outstanding her Eyrie is. To everybody’s surprise though, Snow (how the dragon is called) goes missing on the way to Jehal’s domain and a massive hunt ensues, but to no avail. The Dragon is gone. And this is only the tip of the iceberg because other political, social occurrences require the characters’ attention.
Meanwhile, in the wild, outside the control of an Alchemist , Snow goes cold turkey without the potions and lo and behold: a Dragon slowly awakes out of the slumber she has been under and it proves to be not at all mindless or tamed. Unbeknownst to the Kings and Queens, she is prepared to avenge herself and to liberate the other Dragons.
The Adamantine Palace is a fast-paced read – its 384 pages (a rather short book for the Fantasy genre) are divided into about 70 small chapters, something that proves to be both its strength and its weakness. The former is in the whirlwind non-stop action. But not of the sword and the fighting (at least for the greatest part) kind, but of the Machiavellian kind. I swear that to read this book, is probably the closest you will ever get to being inside say, the Borgia’s inner circle. Cunning schemes, twists and turns, cheating, betraying, poisonings, sex as a weapon – everything you can think of, you name it, these Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses (and the Speaker) are doing. There is no stopping them. There is no stopping Prince Jehal most of all. And when Snow awakens from her slumber, it only adds momentum and grandeur to the story, as the one character that is the most powerful of them all.
From a strictly intellectual point of view, the plot in this book is utterly fascinating –especially if you consider that not a single character is a hero (the both that are most sympathetic? Very surprisingly , get killed), they are all quite villainous.
But this intellectual appreciation, at least for me, is also a detached one. Because the extremely short chapters alternate narratives between several characters (too many to count but Snow is included) which means not a single one of them truly reaches any potential: all the characters to me, appeared as thin, shallow creatures. There is no way to develop any character because there is simply too many of them ; they are all undeveloped which is a shame because both Sheriza and Jehal for example, could have been utterly fascinating characters; but they fall short both because the narrative kept being interrupted for the benefit of other characters but also because there is little in the way of showing their motivation . It is very clear that these characters are all power-hungry but why it is never explained. I should probably have accepted that it is an ingrained quality stemmed from years of conniving and competing but still I wished for something more.
As a plot-driven book, it undoubtedly works. But I am, essentially a character-driven reader who missed someone to connect with and to truly root for (or even against). It also doesn’t help that on top of having a chapter from their perspective, the author also added short sentences (in italics) to show their exact thoughts. And I was not impressed by those to put it very mildly. They came across as less than sophisticated and quite frankly, cartoonish. Like for example, there is one sequence where one of Queen’s Shezira’s daughters is going into hiding because Snow is attacking. She is running , she is saying something and then she thinks “wait wait wait, shouldn’t I go back?” . Most of these insertions came across as very choppy and useless and I think the book could have benefited from their exclusion or actually, by their inclusion in the regular flow of the character’s point of view.
I also missed more in-depth world-building , there were things there which were merely mentioned without so much as a second glance. Most of them sounded intriguing as I wished there was more in the way of information about the world and its History: about the Taiytakei, the Alchemists, Soul Dust, etc and etc. To be fair though, this is clearly a first in a series and all of it may be further developed in the next instalments and I actually intend to read at least the second one to see how it all goes.
The book ends with a minor cliff-hanger that may well be the beginning of a Dragon-apocalypse. I can’t help but to wonder and even perhaps wish, for the dragons to win this war given the selfish, self-serving nature of these Queens and Kings that will have a hard time uniting against a common enemy. If you like fast-paced, plot-driven Fantasy, you might like this one (a lot of people did). If you like me, prefer your characters with a bit more of meat in their bones, then you might want to sit this one out.
Notable quotes/ Parts: Oh, without a doubt, the moment where Snow “wakes up”! Kick-ass and pretty scary.
Verdict: A fast moving, Machiavellian, plot-driven novel. A solid debut with equal measures of weaknesses and strengths.
Rating: I am torn between a 5 or a 6. To me it was 5 because I was unmoved by the characters but I can see how other readers might appreciate it more than I did , so I will go with a tentative 6. Good, recommended with reservations.
Reading Next: Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland