Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen Lawhead is a collection of three individual books. I picked up the omnibus edition from Half Price and it's $1 spinner rack. I had never read any Stephen R. Lawhead, his personal website here, before, so didn't know what to expect.

It's standard heroic journey. Very much 'farm boy saves the world'. The hero goes from acolyte, to traveler, to adopted prince, to king. Through the three books, In The Hall of the Dragon King, The Warlords of Nin, and The Sword and the Flame, we have a rise, fall, and return to greatness. Much of the religion seems very psuedo Christian among the pagan gods as it were. For some reason, I continued to get vibes of the old movie, Excalibur from it.

But the problem? The movie Excalibur in it's length, seemed to have more depth than the entire series of the Dragon King Saga. Things are cast in very black and white terms. Good will win. The 'god' will throw out the old gods. The suffering will be temporary. The victories, well, I don't want to say easy, but without much loss.

Combat and long term situations are quickly resolved. For example, in the second book, the Warlords of Nin, the hero comes charging out with his new forged sword and essentially, scares away over fifty thousand villains and kills their leader in one blow. In one chapter. In part of one chapter. It might take Robert Jordan longer than that to discuss the iron shod shoes of the horses.

The good thing about this, is that I would easily recommend this for teens or younger who were looking to get into fantasy. Now if they're already reading the Wheel of Time or A Game of Thrones, then no, this will hold no attraction for them. But if they want to dip the toe into fantasy? Yes, this series, which is quick to read and has a relatively small cast, is the perfect starting point for such readers. In addition, I'd recommend it to someone looking for 'Christian' fantasy writing. While it's not called Christianity as such, the allusions and references to many Christian teachers are fairly easy to spot for those seeking them.

Which again, as an old bastard whose read way too many of these types of stories, makes it too easy for me to go, "story going to go this way, story going to go that way, X, Y, and Z are going to happen at point A, B, and C."

Now mind you, there is a nice twist in the third volume, The Sword and the Flame. The main hero, named Quentin, has a sword, which has a great name, Zhaligkeer, 'The Shining One', is much like Excalibur from the movie. When used wrongly, it loses it's vast power. Quentin strikes down a bandit in rage and well, sword loses it's power.

But that's not the 'twist'. Rather, in the first volume, In The Hall of the Dragon King, a necromaner, Nimrood, is struck down and loses all his power. Through words alone, he almost causes an entire kingdom to crash and it's a nice change of pace from when we usually see the bad guys come back, like Cell or something from Dragon Ball Z, more powerful than ever! Here the villain is reduced to the shadows and never gains vast power or abilities, but rather, uses the whole loss of power to be more careful than before.

In terms of gaming?

1. Named Weapons: Like I said, I dug the whole Zhaligkeer the Shining One as a weapon.

2. Tried and True doesn't mean useless: If you have new players who aren't necessarily readers of fantasy but are playing Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder or another fantasy, this is a good book to throw at them.

3. Quick: Pathfinder and other Dungeons and Dragons variants, like the OSR clones, aren't necessarily designed for court intrigue and combat. Of course you can do it, but outside of some skill checks, all of the role playing is done at the table and there isn't a lot of mechanical resources compared to it, as opposed to say, fighting or magic spells or items. Being quick may mean as little as moving from one ruin to the next as all good murder hobos do, to trying to cut through combat as quickly as possible to get back to the parts of the game that the players enjoy.

The Dragon King Saga isn't for everyone and I can see experienced readers dropping this one quickly. For those who've read other Stephen R. Lawhead books, are all of his works of this nature? Are there any that you'd recommend to read or skip? Any that are essential for the modern fantasy reader?