This week’s book review is of Alexzander Christion’s book By The Hand of Dragons: AlinGuard. This book is an unexpected and impressive fantasy novel, that a reader of the classics as well as modern interpretations of fantasy would enjoy thoroughly. This book is, I think, the first in the By the Hand of Dragons series, but I am not entirely sure about that because the order of the series is a little bit variable. However, even going into this without knowing anything about the rest of the series, you are taken on an adventure that is intriguing and draws you in, and is a little bit absurd.
This book follows a character named Shefa who is a being that was created by dragons to rule the world. Or so he said. He is exploring his kingdom — the entire world — to better know his subjects, and comes upon a kingdom up in the far north that is having problems with a prisoner under their command: AlinGuard. After being insulted, attacked, and all around annoyed, Shefa agrees to take care of their little problem. Of course, there are going to be some obstacles to face whilst trying to retake the prison from its prisoners. And then there’s the little question of who organised this coup.
This story was very entertaining. It manages to combine humor with one of the more serious storylines I have seen in fantasy, disregarding the dark fantasy subgenre. The characters managed to take themselves seriously whilst also saying things that are absolutely riotous and hugely entertaining. They are quirky in ways that entirely believable and yet still completely fantastical. There was, though, enough seriousness to the story that you could take it seriously while still having a good time. Shefa himself is a being of impressive strength, who is still flawed, but it absolutely perfect for being the “ruler of the world”. He is arrogant and entitled and has absolute reason to be, because he can probably kill everybody in the prison without too much thought. Well, most everybody. He has a couple of cohorts who are also quite fascinating, and the situations they managed to get themselves in are quite dangerous but somehow still not quite the end of the world. Yet.
The characters managed to unfold throughout the story, exposing more traits than you would have thought possible and managing to endear themselves to you, even despite some of the rather loud character flaws.
The story itself is sort of exactly what you would expect from a high fantasy. There is a hero who has a battle to fight against possibly overwhelming odds, he has companions who stand by his side, and a world to save. Taking all this into account, this is not it at all what you would expect from a high fantasy. Yes, I note the irony. The reason that this contradiction manages to work so well is that the main character is as much the problem as he is the solution. This is what manages to make the story a good deal of fun whilst still being serious. But then, I am rather fond of things that are perhaps more problematic than they are useful. Shefa and his companions of the dragon-made sort are doing this because it is a fight against impossible odds, and they think that is super fun. Their human companions, meant to supervise them and make sure that the human king’s ideals are being upheld, do not think this is fun at all.
This story starts off right in the middle of the action, which means that as readers, we have absolutely no idea what is going on, who these people are, and why we should take them seriously. There are a lot of stories out there that utilize this technique to draw readers in and to the start of the interesting action off right away. It is a useful world building technique because it can allow a writer to explore the world as the reader explores the world, explaining important concepts as you go. I have seen this end badly for a number of reasons, one of which is that the world building becomes more important than the action, or the characters never get a chance to develop because things are happening too quickly. This story does not do either of those things. It is one of the better examples of this technique that I have seen in a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this world via arrogant chimeras and almost-ridiculous battles.
One problem that this presents is that there are a number of questions that I have regarding what happened before this story that were not answered in this book. I believe that they are explained in other books in this series, but I haven’t read them yet and need to do so. Even with the questions that remain, I think this story is very well-developed and very well written and does not require answers for the reading.
Overall, this is one of the most entertaining fantasy books I have read in a good long while. I think this book explores a fascinating concept that I have not seen before, with characters who are flawed and highly suspect, but endearing and amusing all the same. The battles are definitely bloodied. The language is a bit over the top in spots. And it all works together to create one absolutely wonderful book.