Legends of the Dragonrealm: Shade by Richard A Knaak

(6.7/10) Thin characterisation and convoluted plotting lets this otherwise entertaining novel down.

The 8th in the Dragonrealm series, Shade is an entertaining but thin entry to the genre, the first full length print novel for the series in over a decade.

Plenty of concessions are made for readers new to the series and you get a good sense of the series history. Admittedly, I began to feel like I was being given too much. Characters know "secret this and secret that..." which never quite comes into play in this story. The plot is often convoluted (though not necessarily complicated), and it can be difficult to keep track of various party’s goals and motivations and to tell different voices apart from one another.

I have one quite petty complaint and that is this; I love a good fantasy world map, they give a sense of the scale of the land and should be beautifully crafted hand drawn objects. They should not be done with computers and feature tacky wordart images.

The scale of that world is reduced by characters ability to jump from one location to another, and this reduces the reader's feeling that a journey has taken place (both physical and emotional). Sense of how much time the story takes up is unclear as well.

Dialogue is sometimes perfunctory and exposition heavy, though there are more interesting exchanges as the novel goes on - the two dwarves Edrin and Magron being stand outs. This may be because their characters have more engaging personalities. No one character is quite as interesting as they should be. They're either enigmas or archetypes, their motivations too indistinct or too clear cut.

Shade himself spends a good chunk of the novel stumbling from one location to the other, and despite various characters claims to the contrary, events feel like they happen more by accident than design. And again, the truth is, Shade is not as interesting a character as I thought he would be.

Ultimately, nothing much seems to have changed by the end of the novel. There is little sense of personal development in many of the characters. I know narrative theory teaches us that the restoration of equilibrium is the aim of a story, but in a novel in which change is your primary theme very little seems to be achieved. Thematically maybe that is Knaak's point but emotionally it's quite disappointing.

All this seems negative but the novel can be an entertaining read. Action unfolds on an immense scale (there is a lot of action), the dialogue when it shines shines brightly, there are some chilling and wonderful ideas and images and I'm sure there is much more to enjoy for regular readers of Knaak's novels or the Dragonrealm series.

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