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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars


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The dragon realms are moving towards war. Speaker Shezira has been deposed and is held prisoner in the Adamantine Palace, whilst her daughters summon their armies and dragons to free her. A religious fanatic is intent on seizing control of the rebel dragon army known as the Red Riders and unleashing fire and blood on those who do not accept the word of the Flames. And, amidst the towering peaks of the Worldspine, a dragon has freed itself from bondage and plots to free all of dragonkind from humanity's yoke once and for all.

The King of the Crags is the follow-up to last year's Adamantine Palace. In my review of the first book, I cited the author's furious pace as being a major plus, but it might have come at the expense of the more detailed worldbuilding required to make an epic fantasy novel really shine (although there are plenty of other fantasy books where such worldbuilding takes over and bogs down the narrative, so it's a difficult balancing act). Also, with 70 chapters in 350 pages, the pace was a little too fast and furious at times.

The sequel is a stronger work. 50 chapters in 370 pages means events are given more weight, characters have more time to develop and the world is able to come through a lot more. The addition of a map helps the reader place the various locations and work out the significance of one realm's power and allegiances over another, whilst characters are more fully fleshed-out and developed. Deas even has time for some metatextual commentary on how dragons are treated in other fantasy novels (the line about the docile dragons being ponies with wings was quite amusing, and a common criticism of other fantasy novels), which works better when we get to see the wild dragons, who are considerably more alien in thought and deed, in action.

Some of the criticism of the booking being too fast and furious remains, such as the fact that Princess Jaslyn still has very little page-time for an apparently major character and elements like the Taiytakei still feel somewhat under-developed (although that's probably deliberate in their case). But other characters like Jehal and Kemir shine, the world feels more solid and interesting, the battles are well-described and the various plots twists are more ruthless and startling than anything else this side of Paul Kearney and George RR Martin, and the wait for the third book feels a lot more onerous this time around.

The King of the Crags (****) is a strong, well-written epic fantasy novel and marks some major improvements in the author's style. The novel is available now in the UK from Gollancz and will be published by Roc in the USA in February 2011. A third book in the series is due in a year, whilst Deas has an unrelated YA fantasy novel, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice, due in the autumn.
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Having loved Stephen's original novel, I just had to rip the packaging off this one to get to the meat of the tale as soon as it landed. What I got was an even bigger tale of politics, double-dealing, murder and mayhem than was present in his first tale and was pretty much glutted by the final page.

Beautifully written, excellently plotted and above all a descriptiveness for the world that is almost photographic. Bind that with a passion for the scope of the tale and you really will not go far wrong. As a now firmly established fan of the series, I really cannot wait to see where it goes. If you like political manipulation, cracking combat and a massacres worth of blood with solid storytelling then few do it like Deas. A real pleasure.
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on 8 November 2010
May contain spoilers for those who have not read the first book.

Well, what a great read this one was! I thought The Adamantine Palace an excellent first novel but found the list of family trees indispensable as there were SO MANY CHARACTERS thrown at me at once. Unlike many others, I felt no real need for a map but I do like the `Mappa Mundi' touch with East at the top - wonderfully confusing.

It's quite rare for me to enjoy a sequel more than the first in a series but perhaps it was because I now have the main characters fixed in my ageing brain. The pace slows a little but there is still plenty of action; we have more time for conjecture and learn a few secrets. Prince Jehal has matured a great deal and we get to spend so much time right in his head that I have really warmed to him now. He was already my favourite in the first book [a lovely `Alan Rickman' type of villain] so I was pleased to see him again in KOC. I felt Jaslyn could have played a more prominent part. OK, she was understandably grief stricken on losing her favourite dragon but she spends too much of the book in the background. However, she's certainly improving her knowledge of dragon history so perhaps she's saving herself for Book 3. Zafir continues to be Zafir in this book. I dislike her and am probably meant too but, at the same time, it's always intriguing to try and work out exactly what she's up to. We're not let in on her thoughts so it's sometimes difficult to see the method in her madness. She's obviously thoroughly enjoying herself manipulating and inflicting a great deal of unnecessary suffering on others like a female Vlad the Impaler. The Nightwatchman is interesting; he spends a great deal of his time being a loyal yeoman, but has quietly amassed a great deal of knowledge which conflicts with his `I will obey' upbringing. He is constantly expecting to end his days in one of Zafir's cages or as a victim of Jehal's wrath. Life is not as simple as he would like and he is occasionally forced into independent and very significant action.

Added to all the `I Claudius' type feuding and intrigue there is Semian, who sees himself as the heroic bringer of justice on a white steed leading an army of Red Riders. We also have a miscellany of alchemists, blood mages and a scheming seafaring race [kept deliberately vague, I think], so the plot could go in any direction.

Survival is certainly not guaranteed for anyone in these tales thanks to the real stars. We see a little more of the `great white' and she, too, matures a lot in this tale. The humans obviously confuse her when she does deign to communicate. The dragons, once awoken, are such a refreshing change from the McCaffrey style creatures so many authors seem to conjure up. I see Mr Deas' dragons as a psychological cross between cats and sharks; cold, clinical, wonderfully selfish but willing to exploit the occasional slave when needs be. I'm still really left wondering how the whole saga will end. Will they all emerge from their drug-induced slumbers and annihilate mankind? Will they fly away across the seas to `dragon land'? Will someone develop enough of a threat to force a truce? Do they have an `off' switch? We're given a few small clues to their history but not enough to spoil the third book.

One final question: when will the third book be published?
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on 16 February 2013
The pace of the story is carefully measured, never too slow, often fast and always keeping you reading all the way through.

The characters, though not all likeable, are all thorough and believable and you find yourself endlessly curious about what each of them is plotting or planning against the others. Stephen Deas never gives too much away about any of them yet at the same time never makes them so closed that you don't care for them either. I have a passionate dislike for a few characters and fondness for others - despite not really knowing, ultimately, who is good and who is bad.

I also love the fact that, for once, dragons are as dragons should be. They are not docile, friendly `pets' or the slightly Disneyfied versions of dragons that we have been endlessly fed that don't mind being used as glorified horses or have a random fondness for these small annoying human things that shout, wave pointy metal sticks and kill each other. No, in these books they think they are food. Which is a nice change. I like proper dragons.

Despite having read the two books very close together I still ended up being a bit confused at times by who was married to who and who had feuds with which family and why. The family trees at the beginning of the book were useful to combat this but it was a bit frustrating to have to stop mid-action to flick back and find out just who Prince So-and-So was and why he was arguing with King Blah. This wasn't a major flaw and it certainly didn't stop my utter love for the books, indeed, it may well just have been down to my terrible memory for names.
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on 12 March 2012
The second book of a trilogy is always intriguing. Will there be a change of tempo or a new direction, or will it simply carry on from the first book? In this case, the answer is - both. The prologue overlaps directly with the last section of book one, and is perhaps the second best opening I've ever encountered after 'Tigana', although - obviously - for very different reasons. It's funny and tragic at once, it summarises some of the story so far while also capturing the essence of the characters involved. I won't spoil the surprise by saying any more, but it is brilliantly funny, in a macabre sort of way.

And then it's straight into new characters, new directions, a new religion even, and the fallout from book one, and - hmm, suddenly it's all a bit dull. Whenever the dragons are around, it's terrific, but I'm just not that into the humans. Trouble is, they're either very mad or very shallow, and all of them are slightly flat, and when it's just the same old deviousness as in book one, it feels a bit repetitious.

The fast pace of the first book is much more uneven here, so that there are moments of breathtaking action interspersed with long passages of quite dull description ('To the north, he could see... And to the east...'). Yawn. Especially when a lot of it seemed to contradict the map (and I don't think I had the map upside down). And quite a lot of the backstory came out by means of one character explaining it at length to another, or, worse, soliloquising (or, as often seemed to happen, talking to himself in a dream - lots of dreams in this series). It's not that it was uninteresting, in fact some of it was fascinating (the bits about dragons - the family history was just laundry lists of names), but it did slow the action down. And sometimes in the middle of a solemn bit, there was a laugh out loud moment, or some really black humour, which felt a bit jarring, somehow.

But there are glimmerings of depth to some of the characters - Jaslyn, for instance, and (can it be possible?) Jehal. And Meteroa intrigues me. But the Nightwatchman needs to get a grip on himself - he takes the moral high ground at every step, and claims he only follows orders, when he seems to be as devious as anyone else. I'm not quite sure what he's trying to do, actually, or why, or whether his hypocrisy is no more than a convenient plot device.

And speaking of which, there wouldn't be much of a story without a great deal of stupidity on Zafir's part. In the first book, her motives were very plain. Not commendable, but understandable. But this time round, it's not clear to me that she's driven by anything more than irrational jealousy, which, given the likely outcome of her little schemes, boils down to plain stupidity. It is always difficult for an author to dream up convincing motivation, especially when the character is hellbent on war and general mayhem and a lot of slaughtering of royalty, but I don't really get what Zafir is up to, frankly. Or maybe it's all that inbreeding, and she's just barking, who knows. Insanity is another big feature of the series.

But whether because of Zafir or the dragons or (maybe) just because the author felt like it, a lot of characters die in this book, some of them quite abruptly. This is a technique which has its attractions - there's a certain exhilaration, I suppose, to bumping off main characters or having them horribly maimed, and the likes of George R R Martin have used it with abandon. But there is a downside. For the reader, it can have a disconnecting effect - why get invested in a character when her or she is quite likely to be dragon food a few chapters further on? Once or twice has shock value, but the more this happens, the greater the desensitising effect. I would have thought that authors actually want readers to care about the characters, and this is not the way to do it.

But there again, there's actually no one here who has a half-way decent impulse in them. All the main characters are devious, scheming, selfish bastards and it's tempting to say that, actually, they deserve everything they get. Even the dragon feels obliged to point this out. So yes, maybe dragon food is all they deserve to be. The ending is a veritable orgy of double crossing, so it's very hard to work out who (if anyone) is winning. And by this time, I'm not at all sure I much care. Let's hope the final volume hits the high spots again. Three stars.
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on 23 May 2012
I found this second book a little harder to get into than the first. But once into the swing of it, it was another 'cant put down'. When I finished this one I instantly picked up the next and kept reading. Great middle story very enjoyable.
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on 10 July 2012
The first book had potential, but the realization didn't quite hold up. I was hoping that was because it was a debut and that the second book would become better, i.e. more in depth characters and politics, work a bit more on the world and the humans in it rather than just castles, a handful of noble characters and clouds in the sky. However, the second book still doesn't fullfil those wishes. I like the dragons and the concept of this world and history, but I would have liked to see a more thorough realization of this idea.
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on 3 August 2010
The King of the Crags picks up where the Adamantine Palace left off and presents the increased depth and more machavellian politics that readers/reviewers of the first book have been asking for. There are plot lines which still need to be developed and hints of an even more complex story arc to be developed in the third installment, but this was a much more satisfying read and I am looking forward to finding out where Deas will take his characters and world.
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on 25 January 2012
The King of the Crags has interesting characters, a detailed and well worked-out setting, and a plot that kept me turning the pages to the end and wanting more once I had reached there. All in all, a very good read, and superior to the first book, the Adamantine Palace. On the other hand, it is a pretty dark tale, quite grim, and is lacking in sympathetic characters who I, at least, could engage with. Thus four stars.
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on 30 November 2015
Unlike many fantasy trilogies, this one holds its narrative tension right to the end. Well paced, with several well drawn characters, who develop through the story. Notably, these include Jehal and Kemir, whose journeys are interwoven in the larger plot from different ends of the social scale. Recommended!
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