Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark
Series: The Blood Dragon Empire #2
Publisher: Angry Robot (September 6, 2016)
Length: 336 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Violent, bloody, and adult in every way. That is a concise descriptions of every tale penned by Andy Remic. And Twilight of the Dragons is no exception, delivering a fitting and frantic sequel to the grimdark tour de force The Dragon Engine.
Taking off almost immediately after the ending of book one, the three dragons freed from dwarven captivity (Volak, Kranesh, and Moraxx) are busy reintroducing themselves to a world which has largely forgotten them: dragon fire, claws, and talons serving as notice to everyone in their path, as they rampage, terrorize, and kill, trumpeting loudly that the dragons have returned!
Back in the bowels under the Karamakkos Mountains, our surviving heroes Beetrax, Lillith, Dake, Talon, and Sakora are nearly spent; the torture, rape, and deaths they have endured at the hands of the Harborym dwarfs sucking away their will to go on. But go forward they must, to find the hidden, dragon city of Wyrmblood — somewhere in the dark labyrinth underground — and kill the ancient terrors, which lay unhatched there, before the three mighty dragons return from their pillaging.
Also in the darkness of the dwarf cities, Skalg, First Cardinal of the Church of Hate, hides in the Iron Vaults, surrounded by his people’s most sacred texts. And while he prays at the altar of the Great Dwarf Lords, despairing at the destruction of his civilizaion, he is contacted, touched by the divine; these beings making him a simple proposition: become their champion to strike down the dragons. But Skalg wonders if he is worthy of such a role, and wonders even more if he can refuse the gods themselves.
Meanwhile, back in the Kingdom of Vagandrak, the surviving members of the Iron Wolves are busy drinking and bickering at their favorite bar in the capital when trouble finds them. To begin with, the trouble is of the sort they are well conditioned to deal with, but then things turn more dire, as a rampaging dragon makes an appearance. As always, these Wolves rise to the occasion, giving their adversary all a dragon can handle in a running fight across the battered, burning city of Vagan.
What can I say to sum up this book other than it is pure Andy Remic grimdark: ultra realistic, nasty, and violent. A reader smelling the corpses rotting, feeling the dragon flames slowly melting their skin, and cringing at the feet of hard men and women dealing out death. Mixed in with all that violence, though, is deft characterization, as the author exhibits his innate talent for taking characters who are complete scum, showing their past to explain their present, and then allowing them to do heroic things — even if their motives aren’t always pure as newly fallen snow. Which is why the characters here outshine the bloody goings on around them.
My favorites were our heroes left in the dwarven caverns. Learning more about Beetrax and Lillith was especially entertaining, as they were my favorite characters in this tale, but Dake, Talon, and Sakora had their moments as well. The scenes of these friends past especially heartfelt and memorable to me, adding another layer to these hard men and women, allowing me to understand them and empathize with them somewhat.
As for the return of the Iron Wolves, it took me completely by surprise and excited me immensely. Can’t say I ever loved Dek, Trista, Narnok, and Mola in their books (The Iron Wolves – The White Towers), but this return was a cool twist by Mr. Remic, one which really stole the show. And since their part of the story was filled with non-stop action (bar brawls and dragon fighting) it was quite the adrenaline rush.
I would also feel remiss if I didn’t mention Remic’s dragons. These three are horrific, cruel, and clever specimens of the species, who radiate pure menace. Sure, they are intelligent beings and loyal to their kind, but all other creatures are mere fodder to be incinerated, torn apart, or eaten, as the dragon’s current whims dictate. Especially memorable is how Volak, Kranesh, and Moraxx taunt, mock, and bait their prey, making sure to have fun while they mete out vengeance on a world which once belonged to them.
Now that I have gushed over all my favorite pars of the story, I have to list my handful of criticisms. These dislikes able to be narrowed down to only two.
First, Skalg’s continued tale was a bit of a letdown for me. This dwarf was such a vile piece of work in The Dragon Engine that I was expecting some amazingly awful deeds in this tale. What I got was interesting and an appropriate progression of his story perhaps, but it just wasn’t what I wanted out of old Skalg.
Second, the narrative is a bit of an enigma. Specifically, I’m referring to the continual narrative shifts. These taking the form of jumps from character to character, from past to present, and from place to place without any seeming rhyme or reason. The flashbacks to past moments were certainly enlightening; the looks inside the minds of the victims of the rampaging dragons were horrifying; and the spotlights on our villains were entertaining; but there were too many shifts. Whenever I’d become comfortable with a character or group, deeply involved in their story, BAM! I’d be ripped away and sent spinning to another without warning. Just a little too much of this for my tastes, I suppose.
All in all, Twilight of the Dragons was an undeniably brutal, no-holds barred grimdark, which grabs a reader by the throat and never lets go. It is an epic fantasy which pisses on readers notions of heroes, dwarfs, and dragons, even as it forces them to cheer for heroes who are not very hero-like much of the time. Sure, Andy Remic’s stories are an acquired taste, but once you acquire the taste you want more of them, which is why I’m hoping he has another round of this series yet to come — just without quite so many narrative shifts next time.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.