fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDragon Coast by Greg Van Eekhout fantasy book reviewsDragon Coast by Greg Van Eekhout

Daniel Blackland, the most powerful osteomancer in the Southern Kingdom, will go to any length to rescue his adopted son, Sam. Sam’s essence is inhabiting a huge dragon, a Pacific firedrake that is wreaking fiery devastation on huge swathes of Los Angeles. To extract Sam’s essence, Daniel needs an artifact, and he and his friend Moth will attempt a high-risk impersonation in the warlike Northern Kingdom next door.

Gabriel Argent is the Water Mage of the Southern Kingdom. He, along with his human “hound” Max, reluctantly agree to help Daniel. Gabriel is methodical, a bureaucrat at heart, and he has a different plan for the firedrake, one based on the calculus of the greatest good for the greatest number… by Gabriel’s reckoning, anyway.

Sam, trapped inside a ravening dragon, tries to control it, to steer it from an imaginary “cockpit” made of bone, but he’s only partially successful. Soon Sam realizes that his is not the only essence controlling the magical construct.

Greg Van Eekhout successfully blends all three of these stories and sprinkles them with more magic and wild descriptions in Dragon Coast, the final book of the OSTEOMANCY TRILOGY. This conclusion is energizing and completely satisfying.

The shape of the first book, California Bones, was of a heist or caper, while Pacific Fire, Book Two, was a bit more like a spy thriller. Dragon Coast returns to heist-mode with the volume cranked up to eleven, as Daniel impersonates his magical-clone brother, Paul Sigilo, in the Northern Kingdom’s capital of San Francisco.

There is a lot of suspense in this fairly short book, and much of it comes from Daniel’s and Moth’s adventures. Daniel made a lot of assumptions about Paul. Most of them were wrong. While he and Moth try to track down the needed artifact, Daniel confronts surprise after surprise, and I wondered how he was going to avoid betraying himself. The fact that Paul is a contender for the position of Osteomancer of the Northern Kingdom isn’t even the biggest shock that Daniel gets.

As with the other books, the contrast between family and friends is drawn strongly in Dragon Coast. Both Daniel and Gabriel had, and lost, magically powerful mothers. Gabriel’s was taken from him. Daniel’s abandoned him, taking with her his “golem” or magical-clone brother Paul. Messalina Sigilo has been a spy and a double agent, and worked for both Hierarchs. I was never sure whose side Messalina was on, except her own, and this makes her a dangerous character who drives much of the suspense here.

While this story is mostly Daniel’s, his friends and other characters have their parts to play and their own obstacles to overcome. Daniel’s friend Cassandra, who loves him, is a practical woman who will do whatever needs to be done. She must decide just how far she is truly willing to go, since doing the right thing will hurt Daniel terribly and probably drive him away from her. Gabriel’s “hound,” Max, who is Gabriel’s only friend, faces exactly the same type of dilemma. Daniel himself has to make a difficult decision about the nature of family.

Meanwhile, Sam meets a young woman named Angela Stokes who is also trapped in the firedrake, and must ultimately face or be consumed by his personal greatest fear. Because of the nature of osteomancy, when I say “be consumed by,” I mean it literally.

I thought Van Eekhout had done about all he could with the bone-magic that underpins this series, but there was one more surprise. It wasn’t a twist; it is actually the logical next step given what we know, but it worked perfectly to create a dramatic and plausible conclusion to Sam’s story.

Along the way, the story gives us little bits of description that sound like California but remind us that this is a different world, like this description of Hetch Hetchy:

Submerged beneath the reservoir were what John Muir called ‘the rarest and most precious mountain temples,’ a place where eagles had soared, where bobcats and bears hid from the shrieks of wyvern echoing through the valley.

Dragon Coast is a fun-filled, successful conclusion to this round of books, and a character that Daniel meets briefly seems to leave the door open, perhaps, for more stories in this universe. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, because I enjoyed this series so much.

Published on Septermber 15, 2015. Dragon Coast: the sequel to Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones and Pacific Fire, in which Daniel Blackland must pull off the most improbable theft of all. Daniel’s adopted son Sam, made from the magical essence of the tyrannical Hierarch of Southern California whom Daniel overthrew and killed, is lost-consumed by the great Pacific firedrake secretly assembled by Daniel’s half-brother, Paul. But Sam is still alive and aware, in magical form, trapped inside the dragon as it rampages around Los Angeles, periodically torching a neighborhood or two. Daniel has a plan to rescue Sam. It will involve the rarest of substances, axis mundi, pieces of the bones of the great dragon at the center of the Earth. Daniel will have to go to the kingdom of Northern California, boldly posing as his half-brother, come to claim his place in the competition to be appointed Lord High Osteomancer of the Northern Kingdom. Only when the Northern Hierarch, in her throne room at Golden Gate Park, raises her scepter to confirm Daniel in his position will he have an opportunity to steal the axis mundi-under the gaze of the Hierarch herself. And that’s just the first obstacle.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.