I have waxed so many cats over this book that Warrandyte is now awash with naked, shivering felines who won’t come within spitting distance of me. So today I’m saying enough is enough. Today I will review M.R.Mathias’s The Sword and the Dragon.
Before I begin though I need to say a word about how and why I review books. The ‘why’ is easy – I just love reading and I’m egotistical enough to think that what I think has some small relevance in the world of fiction [read very, very small]. The how is a little more complex. If I love a book then reviewing it is a breeze. On the other end of the scale if I truly loathe a book then I simply won’t review it at all because I don’t get a kick out of naming and shaming anyone who has slaved over a hot keyboard for god knows how long. In between these two extremes is a whole continuum of books that were either just a bit off the mark or worthy but not great for some reason. These are the books I struggle with because I can empathize with their authors. Worse, I can see myself being in their position one day – I finally publish my masterpiece and then some know-it-all comes along and says that it’s ok but….
So I say to M.R.Mathias – “I applaud the effort you put into this book. I applaud your courage in self-publishing it and I wish you every success in the future as your writing matures. But…”
While The Sword and the Dragon was quite well-written and edited, with very few of the glaring errors that make so many indie books painful to read, it also lacked the richness and depth that make, for example, Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy so enjoyable on so many levels.
So where did The Sword and the Dragon miss the mark? For me the answer lies partly in world building but mostly in characterization. The chapters detailing Hyden and his brother Gerard’s clan and their yearly egg hunt climb were sharp, believable and compelling reading but then the plot took off at a furious pace and the world building deteriorated into set design. Given the length of the book I can understand that Mathias would have been faced with a hard choice, however I hope that in future books he reins in the plot and allows his imaginative and innovative world building to take centre stage a little more. In this book he chose plot and a string of battle scenes over both world and characters and that is a real pity because some of his characters – Hyden and Vaegon – were beginning to be quite interesting and had the potential to be even more interesting. Sadly these two characters were the best of the bunch. Gerard, Mikhal, Shaella and the arch villain Pael were disappointing to say the least. I love a good, scary villain but Pael ended up being just… creepy. As for the pivotal love affair between Gerard and Shaella, well that was about as believable as a man clinging to a monster for the sake of someone he barely knows… while his guts are hanging out. Heroic? Maybe. Convincing? Not in a million years.
And that brings me to the heart of my problem with The Sword and the Dragon – except for the good bits I have already mentioned, the book reads too much like a series of battle scenes linked together by thin threads of unconvincing motivation. Apart from Hyden and Vaegon I didn’t care enough about any of the other characters to care whether they won or lost those battles, especially as it soon became apparent that despite impossible odds ‘good’ would still miraculously triumph over ‘evil’. That theme almost defines the fantasy genre and I can live with it when the journey is engaging enough for me to want the good guys to win but when I’m only lukewarm about those characters the inevitable ending just annoys the hell out of me.
I honestly believe that M.R.Mathias has it in him to write great fantasy – The Sword and the Dragon contains enough examples of talent for that to be true – but this debut novel isn’t there yet.
Good for a debut novel but a long way from great. 3/5