Song of the Dragon is the first book of the Annals of Drakis, a new series by Tracy Hickman, an author who most fans will remember for his work with Margaret Weis writing the Dragonlance books. This solo effort left me feeling like he shouldn’t have been let out on his own.
The story starts with Drakis, a human warrior-slave, deep underground with his brother-soldiers, an odd conglomeration of warriors from the slave races — chimera, goblins, manticores — fighting against the last of the dwarven kings for their elven masters. Organized into small groups as part of the elves’ imperial army, Drakis and his allies are heedlessly thrown against the dwarves. The elves are in search of the crown of the ninth, and greatest, of the dwarven kings.
That’s about as far as I got in the story before I gave up. Hickman starts the story in the middle of a battle scene, a running battle lasts six chapters. They beat the king and take his crown, and I gave up, because if you take six chapters to establish the setting, but haven’t really advanced the plot in any meaningful way, I don’t even want to know what happens next. It’s hard to start a book with a major battle scene because the reader doesn’t know any of the characters well enough to care when they die. This lack of emotional attachment to any of the characters left the description feeling almost clinical in nature. Thousands of dead bodies littering the battlefield left me without any sort of emotional reaction, almost as if Hickman was describing the extermination of termites, or the effect of penicillin on mold.
Additionally, when one of the main characters spends all of his time slowly sliding into madness, and another character is being driven insane by a mysterious song in his head, it helps if you have some standard of behavior by which to judge their new relative insanity. It felt like Hickman jumped into the story halfway through the book, rather than starting from the beginning of the tale. Trying to establish back story in the middle of combat led to some pretty unlikely occurrences, such as Drakis trying to explain to one of the other soldiers what they were attempting to capture while charging full speed up a concourse to the dwarven stronghold after they had been fighting for three days straight. You don’t think he would have asked what they were doing before this point?
The Brilliance Audio production that I listened to was great. The reader, Phil Gigante, did a great job of trying to make cheesy dialog and inconsistent characters feel like the next incarnation of Tolkien. That said, even his great voice couldn’t make me listen to the rest of the book. Sorry, Phil. Maybe next time.
Annals of Drakis — (2010-2012) Publisher: Once humans had magic and an alliance with dragons. Now they and the other races have been enslaved by the Rhonas Empire — the elves — and can’t even remember the world the way it used to be. But thanks to the intervention of one determined dwarf and the human slave warrior known as Drakis, all of that is about to change.