In Smith’s (Saint Sanguinus, 2011) fantasy novel, a falconer’s apprentice braves political intrigue—and dragons.
In the Eighth Dominion, young nobles are raised in a nursery and claimed by their parents when they come of age. When no one comes to claim Scorpius, Richolf the falconer takes him on as apprentice, and the boy soon learns how to care for, train and hunt with the birds. As a servant, Scorpius witnesses horrors perpetrated not only by nobles, but also by a local dragon. After Scorpius thwarts an assassination attempt, he’s taken into a lord’s service and finds himself a player in the dangerous world of court politics: literally and figuratively, here be dragons. The fantasy genre allows for fascinating worldbuilding—a chance to name and describe customs, landscape and culture—but this novel instead uses its world as a scaffolding for melodramatic scenes of emotional tension. After describing the basics of falconry, for example, the story has little to add, and the birds’ prey is always “game hens.” With few exceptions, flora and fauna are described generically; “forest herbs,” “boiled root” and a nonspecific “herd of animals” make appearances, while meals are often described as merely “food.” However, the novel amply describes Scorpius’ ungovernable, histrionic feelings. Granted, he lives in a dangerous world, but Scorpius feels everything to the utmost. He trembles, shudders and shakes; feels “daggers of pain,” senses “spears of danger,” and dread twists his guts, tightens his lungs and “shoots icily through the blood in his veins.” The story’s pace picks up toward the end, but by then, so much energy has been expended describing feelings and attempts to suppress them that it may make little impression on readers.
A fantasy novel with an overdramatic hero, set in an overly vague fantasy world.