Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer (2019) has all the elements one might expect from a fantasy novel: a quasi-medieval-Europe setting, swordmasters, mages, powerful talismans, ancient half-forgotten lore, quests with slim odds of success, powerful clerics, secret societies, etc. And that, unfortunately, is just the problem. It has all the expected elements but little unexpected, and the elements as presented are somewhat flat, as are the characters.
Gill (Lord Guillot) was once the greatest swordsman in the land and a member (currently the last living one) of the Chevaliers of the Silver Circle, a legendary cadre of enhanced mage-warriors who long ago devolved into far lesser men whose rituals were more excuses for drinking. Gill’s drinking became even worse after the death of his wife and son and his ensuing (unfair) expulsion from the court several years before the book’s beginning. But when a dragon, a creature thought extinct for ages, appears and begins taking vengeance on humans for killing its kind, Gill gets called on by the new king to try and kill it, while behind the scenes the sinister high cleric Prince Bishop manipulates events for his own benefit. Another character throws a bit of a wild card into things, a young woman named Solene who is a naturally gifted magic user well beyond the abilities of anyone currently known.
To begin with the positive, Dragonslayer is well paced, easy flowing, and nicely concise. Hamilton also does a nice job giving us the dragon’s perspective, adding some complexity to battle between humans and dragons.
Beyond that, it’s pretty much as stated in the opening paragraph above. Worldbuilding is quite thin. Characters are flat and rote with little sense of depth, making it difficult to make any sort of emotional investment in them. The book relies on a good amount of clumsy exposition via interior monologue as well as some overly convenient plot contrivances or things that happen too easily. Solene’s magical ability is an example of the latter two, along with Gill’s discovery of a powerful talisman.
Genre will often present us with familiar elements, so something needs to add some spark in those cases. Maybe it’s the compelling characters, maybe it’s the vivid style and unique authorial voice, maybe it’s edge-of-the-seat plotting. Unfortunately, Dragonslayer lacks that “something,” that “spark.” Hamilton does show some facility with pacing, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the book’s too-basic nature. Not recommended.