King's Dragon, Crown of Stars Volume 1 - Kate Elliot
Released in 1997, this tells a tale of political intrigue in a some what unique and oddly egalitarian setting. It's definitely odd at first, and rather incongruous. The writing is quite good, and its obvious the author put a lot of effort into her research of the real dark and middle ages before writing this first volume of what, like all fantasy series that came out in the 90's, was supposed to be a trilogy. Soon this ballooned into a shelf sagging behemoth of 7 volumes.
I'd never really planned to read this series, but My sister had read it and left the books behind when she moved out. And instead of bunging them off straight to the trade-a-book I thought I'd give them a try first. Needless to say, I don't normally feel my sister has much in the way of taste when it comes to.. well.. anything actually.. so I was a bit surprised by this. It's not a bad novel, and if the series stays at least on par with this it won't be a bad series. It seems to me however that far more time is spent on back door political dealings and pages of characters navel gazing than anyone actually doing anything.
I've seen this series compared sometimes with George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, also occasionally with Tad Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn. I can some what see the resemblance, but they are all 3rd cousins at best. So far however, Elliot has stayed on the side of stark contrast closer to Williams rather than crossing to the dark side that is the various shades of grey approach that GRRM is so good at. This series has obvious good and evil characters. That isn't to say that sometime in the next 6 volumes their positions on various issues won't change.
The World building is top notch, but the modern gender ideas are sometimes very jarring when compared to what the actual time periods that inspired this series were like. That may be one of the books biggest flaws. This novel feels too much like a historical novel for me to really see it as a Fantasy..
Some of the characters are good, some aren't. Some are just bland, and those are the ones who seem to get a large amount of pages dedicated to them. I'm sure all the stuff they ramble on about, the history of the church, the history of the kingdoms.. It's all probably very important to the plot. But it tends to come in such boring segments it sometimes makes me feel as If I'm back in high school history class. In other words, this novel makes frequent use of the dreaded infodump. Sometimes its handled well.. some times less so.
Worse, the series is slow. Slow and Slow. You plod along, huffing and wheezing and groaning under the exertion of slogging through the navel gazing infodumps.. and suddenly you will hit an icy patch and skid for 3 or 4 chapters and feel exhilarated and think.. Finally, it's going to get started. But then you hit a gravel patch and slow down again and regain control, and then slow down some more as you come to a pedestrian crossing. The book didn't begin to really pick up plot wise until there were less than 100 pages left. It's definitely all set up. But it left me feeling rather tepid towards the rest of the series. If the rest are like the last 100 pages of this one, then it will be a snap to finish. If they are on the same format as this book with the first 500 pages being set up for very little reveal.. it will be a snoozefest. I suppose I'll see when I get to reading the second book. I hope it stays moving at a good clip, as I'd really like to like this series.
Though not in the least the authors fault, the cover art on this series is, in a word, horrible. It's not even just bland like a Darrel K. Sweet cover.. It's just downright bad. The UK Editions, and Especially the French Editions.. have vastly superior cover art.