“Give me a world where dragons and magic are real but everything else is historically accurate with France of the mid-17th century, and I’ll be hooked on the premise alone.”
I wrote that almost a year ago when reviewing Pierre Pevel’s second book translated into English, ‘The Alchemist in the Shadows’, and it applies today as much as it did then. The third and final book in ‘The Cardinal Blades’ series - The Dragon Arcana - brings us back to mid-17th century France where d'Artagnan and Cardinal Richelieu are central characters to a wonderful story of dragons and secret cults and death.
The Dragon Arcana finishes – as far as I know – the story of the Cardinal’s Blades, under the leadership of La Fargue. Their stories are full of terror and strife, and their ends are worth stories each and every one.
There was a time when I did not think that Marciac would ever grow up, and when nothing Agnes could do would shock me, but all things change in the end. Character growth is something that Pevel actually does really well, and is one of the things that translated well into English from the original French.
Underneath the growth and actions of the main characters is a story of France at war with itself, and from without. A dragon is destroying the city and there are almost none who can stop it from wreaking complete devastation wherever it likes. The plots and schemes of a dozen come to fruition and failure in this book, leaving thousands dead beneath their uncaring feet.
But one of the overriding issues that I have had with this series is the way in which it has been translated into English. I am not a French speaker, but there are multiple times during my reading of The Dragon Arcana (as well as the preceding two books) that left me wondering if maybe the translation was not providing me with the full picture. There is an urgency to the writing which seems to be that of the translator and not the author, and several times the theme of a passage is lost amidst the translation.
Pevel seems overly fond of ensuring that the reader knows where they are at every moment, regardless of whether you have any knowledge of Paris and the French language. If you don’t, then you are going to be left reeling with the sheer wealth of French used, naming locations which I’m sure are important to locals and French enthusiasts, but leave me completely confused to the point where I have trouble remembering who is who and what is where.
On top of that, the ending of this book seems hurried; as if the author himself got himself to the end of the story he wanted to tell, and then just rushed through a wrap up for the sake of … well, I’m not sure. I think that it would have made more sense to just make a clean cut, instead of the awkward prologue we are given that leaves me picturing the still-screens at the end of ‘based on real life event’ movies.
All in all though, The Dragon Arcana is a worthwhile read, one that I would recommend, despite its faults. The story intrigues and captures, the characters move and entrance, and the world is wonderfully depicted – if a little convoluted when rendered into French place names. My recommendation is to read all three on a rainy weekend, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.
8.2/10 Joshua S Hill, April 2012
This is Paris. This is 1633. This is a world under attack from dragons. Cardinal Richelieu is on his guard against the greatest danger he, or France, has faced. A secret society known as the Black Claw is plotting in the shadows. They have already struck twice, and with their third blow they mean to finish their task. Unless the Cardinal's Blades can stop them. They are all prepared to risk their lives for the Crown, this time the question is not whether they will need to… it's whether or not they will survive. Who are the Dragon Arcana, what secret are the Chatelaine nuns trying so hard to protect, and if an ancient dragon is unleashed on Paris will the Blades really stand a chance against it..?
The final instalment in French author Pierre Pevel’s swashbuckling fantasy series, The Dragon Arcana is a wonderful finale to a brilliant trilogy. A fun, fast, fiery read, Pevel’s latest novel exhibits all the best qualities of its predecessors with a healthy dollop of originality on top.
When a devastating vision by Soeur Béatrice d’Aussaint sees a dragon burn Paris to the ground, it’s up to The Cardinal’s Blades to figure out who’s behind the attack and save the city. But they’re hampered from the outset with allegiances wavering and individual responsibilities of love and loyalty pulling them apart. The Blades are not what they used to be, and Captain La Fargue struggles to hold them together in the face of death, deceit and the ever treacherous dracs.
As with the previous books, Pevel’s characterisation remains one of the novel’s strongest attributes, with each member of the Blades cutting a compelling figure. Whether it’s the baronne de Vaudreuil fighting her destiny, Leprat settling into his new life with the King’s Musketeers or Saint-Lucq doubting his captain’s motives, they captivate equally, an impressive feat for a story with so many leading characters.
Cardinal Richelieu remains the mysterious puppeteer pulling the strings here, while newer characters emerge in the form of the Dragon Arcana, adding to the ever present political plotting and backstabbing shared between the agents of France and The Black Claw.
Real deaths, near deaths and fake deaths are rampant from the outset, creating an aura of fear to preside over the entire novel, something which is only accentuated by the constantly imminent arrival of the prophetic dragon.
As ever, the motives of the main players remain shrouded in mystery until the very end of the book, and while this may ordinarily frustrate, it’s relatively painless here with so much going on. And while the final pages suggest an end to the Cardinal’s Blades, they also hint at the possibility of more swashbuckling Parisian adventures from Pevel in the future.
With a fast paced narrative that deftly balances description, characterisation, action and history to generate impressive forward momentum, Pevel delivers another sure-fire winner to the fantasy genre.
9.2/10 -Alice Wybrew, April 2012
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