Tuesday, July 29, 2008

McNamara, Turner & Dutkiewicz - The Last Realm: Book One, Dragonscarpe (Book Review)


"The Last Realm: Book One, Dragonscarpe" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Pat McNamara, Gary Turner & Michal Dutkiewicz
Format: Coffee-table-sized Hardback, 230 pages
Publisher: Angel Phoenix Publishing
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Dragonscarpe” hit me from out of nowhere. I’ve received a considerate mail from Pat McNamara if I’d be interested in reviewing the first novel in a new illustrated epic fantasy trilogy called “The Last Realm”; the mail included a link to their homepage and because what I saw looked really promising I was more than happy to agree to review the book. The reply I got was prompt and in a couple of days time a colossal 320 page coffee-table-sized hardback encased in a quality wrapping arrived at my doorstep – so it was not only dispatched in no time at all, the condition of the book was also impeccable (if you are not a stranger to internet shopping then crumpled covers hardy even raise your brow). The presentation and the attitude bespoke of professionalism so I was eager to sink my teeth into this epic doorstopper. Unfortunately the course was not as palatable as I had hoped for; it was rather bland and tough to chew at times. But on overall I deem it an impressive and well thought out debut that I would recommend to young adults getting started in the genre. Let me elaborate this further, but first a quick recap.
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More than a thousand Realms -- each constrained by a magical barrier and interconnected by a series of Portals -- governed by a legendary Angelwitch that presides in the Crown Realm of Dragonscarpe, are being ravaged by recurring Rifts and their bloodthirsty spawns, the Rifters. The peace and all the alliances between the Realms are on verge of breakdown. Thrust into the heart of the turmoil are two boyhood friends – Zayd Mon Awes and Wyun Urkana, both Paladins of Dragonscarpe and Protégés to the Angelwitch, but where the former sets on an idealistic task to train four beautiful Elementalists who could hold the key to winning the war (if they don’t kill each other first), the latter fights a more indirect fight always in the first line of battle; although both have their own problems and doubts. A few bad decisions and an incomplete understanding of the situation on the Angelwitch’s part, the scheming of the power-hungry outcast Velcca and the dark truth behind the Rifts make for a majestic finale…
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Dragonscarpe” was created by a collaboration of three men: illustrations were provided by an Award-winning artist Michal Dutkiewicz (Batman etc.), it was written by Pat McNamara and the story concept was sketched out by Gary Turner. They claim to have been inspired by classic fantasy titans such as McCaffrey’s “Pern” and Burrough’s “Martian series”, but I actually found some similarities to the late Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series (writing-style, setting and lore). The PR blurb boldly claims “The Last Realm” to be a “Lord of the Rings” for the new generation, but this sales pitch really goes a bit too far.

First off, the book is rich with vivid illustrations; after reading text-heavy fantasy tomes without as much as a sketch here or there to break the monotony this really spices things up and comes as a welcome refreshment (some of the illustrations are available here, but I’ve also asked my brother to take some pictures of the book and the results are pretty awesome: pic1, pic2, pic3, pic4, pic5, pic6, pic7). If I had a niggle concerning the art it would have to be that some of the material is really trite and/or juvenile – namely, a lot of half-naked women with huge…attributes that defy the laws of gravity, by all means.

The writing by itself is competent enough, but McNamara’s style somehow failed to capture my imagination and my mind often wandered outside “The Last Realm”. It also feels that the seams between the writing, done by McNamara, and the concepts (lore, worldbuilding, character design etc.), done by Turner, are welded together too loosely and the cracks make for a somewhat clunky reading experience. Strong language is avoided for well-known commercial reasons (YA friendliness), but only in form; I mean, there are no explicit sexual scenes and the violence is portrayed with tactful care, but there is some concealed usage of swearwords (gonsdamned, go rew yourself etc.) and it felt kind of funny and out of place for me. I was also a bit disappointed by the dialogue and while it is never really bad it just doesn’t amuse, it is not memorable and it doesn’t stir your feelings or intellect in any way. Also, the pre-juvenile bantering between the Elementalists makes them one-sided and annoying characters.
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-Ersoola angrily folded her arms across her chest, and said, “You cannot expect…”

Her protest never finished because Alleyne shouldered her aside and gestured in distress at the room.

“But I am Alleyne El Emin, Grand Aeromancer, Fourth in Line of Ascension and Niece to the Grand Azure of the Sky City of Aran, finest Windrider in the Realm of Air, Champion of the Airsword, and revered Cloud Dancer. I demand separate quarters. And I cannot live without servants! Who will do my chores? And Where is my balcony so I can at least escape from time to time this crushing sensation of being buried alive? And the bathing area is completely unacceptable. I need it open to the sky so I can summon cleansing rains. And what of masseurs to aid my body in recovery after training, and banquets in the eve for when I am hungry, and silks to sleep amongst so I at least have a reminder of the comforts of Aran? And scented braziers, to rid these walls of their dreadful earthen rank? And incense to aid me in my meditations, and…” (pg.92)
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The characters are not that interesting and even though some of them have their bright moments they aren’t really well fleshed-out in general. Contemplation, inner-struggles and other basic personality traits are present, but once again - it often felt like I was reading a list of character traits, instead of reading about living and breathing individuals (Zayd is compassionate, idealistic, trusting, good and rather optimistic; Velcca is dark, beautiful, dangerous, evil etc.).

The best part for me (besides the illustrations) was the worldbuilding which is thought-out and detailed. Some of the aspects of the world are a bit simplistic, but on overall “Dragonscarpe” offers a real sense of history – if other aspects of the storytelling improve in the sequel Volumes one could really immerse into the world of the Realms. On the other hand, it must be said that the scene-setting suffuses a great part of the book and seems to serve little purpose, but its own – exposition is not predicated on character development and it doesn’t stem from the needs of the plot, it overwhelms them instead. It is plausible nevertheless and the illustrations enhance the texture and atmosphere of the world immensely. And like I’ve already mentioned, the world has a certain Jordan-esque vibe to it.

Some of the themes I’ve discovered in the story are: demand for personal sacrifice (love vs. duty, individual vs. community,…), need for cooperation, difficulties of leadership, questioning the authority, love/hate, good/evil, friendship and so on.

While “Dragonscarpe” certainly doesn’t offer us an A-grade story, I still believe it may hold a lot of appeal for older children and young adults that are eager to step into the world of fantasy, but are afraid of ‘big books with too many pages’. The pace of the plot picks up vastly in the last quarter of the novel as the setting fully establishes itself and we can only hope that the sequel looks up to the ending of this book and brings something more coherent and accomplished to the table.
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- ThRiNiDiR -

7 Comments:

SQT said...

Interesting. I have this behemoth too and I've been wondering what to expect. I haven't read anything like this before, so at least it'll be a new experience for me.

realms of speculative fiction said...

Exactly. It's worth giving a try and I hope it will leave you with a better impression than it has me.

daydream said...

Sounds liek an ambitious plan, but well from the excerpt I read I can say that this is drained from life like dried fruit, residual sweetness, but nothing that can cause sugar rush. At least it's pretty.

ThRiNiDiR said...

It's ambitious, but above all professional, and although the first volume can be considered a failure of a sorts it has great potential for improvement in the consequent books...all we can do is sit and wait :)

daydream said...

Yup, each novel makes us better, the writers that is, although even readers benefit. And if they keep being as professional as they are so far, I think they can work out a better second one.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Nice review :) I enjoy your in-depth style.

Like SQT, I have this Brobdingnagian (can't say behemoth twice now, can we?) book, also, and I might start it this weekend :D

ThRiNiDiR said...

Thanks again Chris :)...I appreciate it.

 

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