Stephen Deas

The Memory of Flames, book 2

Orion (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-575-08378-3

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The King of the Crags is an awkward book to review in that it sits right there in the middle of the road; a good enough book, but not anything very special.  It was an entertaining enough read, but not particularly memorable. There’s not really a lot wrong with it, but it doesn’t stand out in any way either.

One difficulty with The King of the Crags may be that it’s the second in a trilogy; these often don’t stand alone very well, and it’s not fair to expect them to do so. However, I haven’t read either the first or last in this trilogy, which means that for me The King of the Crags had to stand alone. It was reasonably easy to pick up on the plot, and to some extent on the cast of characters; but I did feel that the characterisation in particular probably suffered from the fact I hadn’t read the first. Many of the characters seemed a little sketchy and it was hard to care about their dilemmas to any extent. Given that Deas is a reasonably good writer, I have to conclude that this is likely, at least in part, to be due to the fact I was unaware of the character establishment and development of volume one.

Speaker Zafir has risen to power through murder and treachery.  She is still not satisfied with her power; she has taken Jehal as her lover although he is married to Princess Lystra, and hopes that this will be the path to still more power. It may not be that straightforward though; Jehal has done his own share of murder and plotting to gain power and may not be as easy to manage as Zafir hopes.

In service to her goals Zafir has thrown the lands into disarray. Queen Shezira faces trial for treason, accused of the murder of the previous speaker, Hyram. Her death would split the nations, resulting in certain war. It would also split her power, with three daughters to inherit (one being Lystra). Already the Red Riders and their stolen dragons have begun a guerilla war against Zafir, hoping to destroy what they see as her illegitimate rule.

And although no one knows it yet, the dragons themselves – all but enslaved to humans for generations – are planning their own rebellion and revenge. The lands are falling apart, and still all Zafir can see is that she does not yet have enough power. Will her blindness destroy the world she hopes to rule?

Plotwise, this was a fairly easy novel to follow. The politics weren’t all that complicated, and were clearly spelt out. The first chapter or two was a little confusing, as I tried to get in sync with the world and the plot; this soon sorted itself out and I had little trouble for the rest of the novel. The plot is a fairly straightforward story of political ambition and maneuverings; once you have the characters and setting straight it’s not hard to follow. I would probably have appreciated more depth and complexity to the plot, but it was interesting enough and provided a reasonable degree of entertainment. It wasn’t too hard to work out what had happened in volume one – characters had a bit of a tendency to go over it, either in conversation or mentally. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the novel ends on something of a cliffhanger, leaving the plot to be resolved in volume three. Very little is tied up in this volume, and so it’s hard for me to get a sense of the success or failure of the story arc.

As I’ve already noted, the characterisation was somewhat weak, but I partly credited this to the fact that the motivations and circumstances of most characters seem to have been established in volume one. Most were eventually made clear in this novel, too, but in general the characters were sketchy and not particularly engaging. On the other hand, there’s a diverse cast of characters here and they engage in plenty of action and scheming to help keep the reader’s attention.

The worldbuilding was good; a few things I didn’t fully understand till late in the novel, but again I put this down to not having read volume one. Deas does not spend a lot of time on the geography of his world, preferring to focus on the people and beasts that populate it, and the political system that some characters are trying to undermine. This works quite well; the world is convincing and internally consistent, and provides a strong background to the story.

Overall, The King of the Crags is a reasonably good book which provides a fair degree of entertainment, without being memorable or standing out from the crowd in any way at all. I suspect it might be a better book if read in the context of the trilogy, but it’s still hard to imagine it being particularly outstanding. This is not a book to avoid, but nor is it a book to seek out. As I said, it sits right there in the middle of the road, and if you come across it you might find it a satisfying diversion. But that’s about it.