Friday, 23 September 2011

‘Storm of Magic: Dragonmage’ – Chris Wraight (Black Library)

If I’m being completely honest it was mention of Chris Wraight’s name, as one of the contributing writers, which persuaded to me to give the ‘Storm of Magic’ books (well, two of them) a go. Basically, the bottom line is that there hasn’t been a book of Chris’, from the Black Library, that I haven’t read and enjoyed. Not only does Wraight pay really close attention to his setting but he always comes up with a superb story to sit within it.

All of this ultimately led me to ‘Dragonmage’, a book that I was sure would tide me over until Wraight’s next novel (‘Luthor Huss’) makes its appearance early next year. I did have a few doubts, before picking it up, though as although Wraight’s novels have never failed to hit the spot his short stories (although entertaining) haven’t done it for me so much. As a novella, ‘Dragonmage’ sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes; how would I fare with it? Pretty damn well as it happens.

The winds of magic are blowing far stronger than ever before and now their force is about to felt on the island nation of Ulthuan, home of the Elves... The Phoenix King nears death and Elven princes across the island jockey for position to be the one who takes the crown next. Lord Rathien of Caledor and Prince Valaris of Ellyrion are the last two players on the field and the outcome of their battle could well decide a lot more than upon whose head the crown will sit next...
Rathien seeks to awaken the dragons from their long sleep and take the Phoenix crown through fire and claw. An ambitious young mage has told Valaris of the power that he can wield if she gains control of the magical storm itself. Two far greater forces lie in wait behind the scenes though, manipulating events to suit their own ends. Far more rides on this rivalry between Elves than anyone could possibly guess.

As with ‘Razumov’s Tomb’, ‘Dragonmage’ is an incredibly slender one hundred and twenty four pages long and, as such, it seems a little too easy to say that it was a book that I found incredibly easy to read. A book that short shouldn’t be anything other than easy to read; you open it up, read a few pages and before you know it you’re done. That was certainly the case here but ‘Dragonmage’ also has a lot more to recommend it and I’m glad I gave it a go. Chris Wraight has come up trumps again!

I wonder if the ‘hundred and twenty four page’ thing was something that the Black Library insisted upon when they commissioned the novellas? I’d need to check ‘The Hour of Shadows’ to find out, unless anyone here has read it...?
Anyway, the relative brevity of the book means that there is only so much you can fit into it (naturally). Whereas Hinks threw everything he had at ‘Razumov’s Tomb’, and ended up with a story that felt frustratingly half finished, Wraight adopts a more low key approach that works a lot better in my opinion. Instead of trying to cram a large story into a small space, Wraight clearly tailors his tale around the space that he has. I did come away with a feeling that, again, the whole story hadn’t been told but I also felt that ‘Dragonmage’ was a tighter affair that does what it sets out to do.

The rivalry between Lord and Prince is explored thoroughly and erupts into the kind of full on warfare that I’ve come to expect from Chris Wraight’s work. Wraight proves that he is more than able of condensing the horrors of war into a few pages (rather than over the course of an entire book) and I came out of these shaken by the crash of cavalry and the desperate last stand that ensured, really stirring stuff!
Wraight then proceeds to ramp things up to an entirely new level with the introduction of things that can only take place when the winds of magic blow at their strongest. The dragons are huge, brutal creatures and not only do you get a feel for how old they are but you’re also left in no doubt as to what it means to communicate with one of these creatures on any level at all. The fulcrum of magic is also handled very well and is the key for a couple of decent twists that come right at the end of the book and ramp up the climax even more. I saw one of these coming but only with hindsight, I didn’t see the other one coming at all, just the way I like it.

Not only is ‘Dragonmage’ a thoroughly effective advertisement for the new ‘Storm of Magic’ Warhammer supplement but it’s a compelling tale in its own right, with enough carefully placed twists to keep things moving in a very tight space. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Chris Wraight in the future, check him out if you haven’t already.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

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