Book Review: The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf

Title: The Dragon’s Legacy

Author:  Deborah A. Wolf

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date:  March 13th, 2018

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted

I have been trying to think of a clever way to lead into this review, but I’m just going to come right out and say it. The Dragon’s Legacy is one of the finest epic fantasies I have ever had the privilege of reading. It’s only one novel, my first experience with Deborah A. Wolf, but I am already prepared to clear some shelf space for her next to Erikson, Hobb, and Kay. It’s that well-written, that engaging, that complex, and that consuming. This is not a book you dabble in or breeze through, it’s one you sit down with for hours at a time and read every word.

It’s a story that doesn’t come easy, with characters who don’t draw clear lines between heroes and villains. It doesn’t follow the narrative path you might expect, and its mythology is as broad, as deep, and as engaging as a lost religion. I struggled with this at times, going back and rereading passages, pages, and even chapters to understand everything that was going on. Wolf has a habit of dropping us into the chapter, surrounding us with layers of language and imagery, and holding the POV character close to her chest for sometimes a full page or even two. It’s maddening, frustrating, and yet one of the finest reading experiences I have ever enjoyed.

Absolutely everything here worked for me – the world-building, the setting, the mythology, the politics, the characters (so many amazing women!), the dialogue, the story . . . there was nothing that fell short or flat. It’s very much a desert-fantasy, which is not usually my first choice, but Wolf breathes so much life and mystery into shifting sands that I was legitimately stunned by the setting. I liked the idea of the vash’ai, the great cats with whom warriors bond, right from the start, but I was not prepared for Wolf to give them their own culture and mythology. Nothing here is merely for show, just a curious bit of detail to keep you reading. Everything has meaning, resonance, and significance, even if it’s not yet entirely clear how. Similarly, I thought the whole spider aspect was perfectly creepy, but then she goes spins an entire world of monsters and villains out of that web, shocking me with the horrors near the end of the book. Yes, this is epic fantasy, complete with heroism and grandeur, but it’s also damned scary in places.

I am not going to talk about the plot or the characters, because I have neither the time nor the words to do so, but rest assured that this is female-led fantasy in the strongest sense. I could share with you painfully inadequate sketches of each, but you need to read this to fully appreciate it. What I will say is that the characters are complex, often wounded or damaged in some way, outsiders in many cases, and beset by conflicts of duty and motivation. There is nothing simple about any of them, and yet their betrayals still wound us as deeply as those of any beloved character whom we’ve followed for an entire series. It’s one of those books where, if you were to keep a scorecard of heroes and villains, you’d need a heavy-duty eraser, as you’ll constantly be shifting names from one column to the other.

Finally, I feel like I must say something about the genre. I’ve seen some debate as to whether this qualifies as grimdark or epic fantasy, but I say it’s both. This is a story that’s dark, full of pain and horror, with an overwhelming pall of sorrow and loss. The world is dying, races are dying, and yet cultures continue to pursue their petty conflicts. There is something of the ‘chosen one’ trope here, with a few characters ‘destined’ to save (or destroy) the world, but there are no choices – just traps, deceptions, and the lesser of two evils. Yet, despite all that, this is still a sweeping epic fantasy, full of big ideas, intricate mythologies, and deep histories. There are moments of joy and friendship, of humor and love, that draw it all together and cast the epic light needed for there to be grimdark shadows.

In the end, The Dragon’s Legacy is a complex beast. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a compelling one. You can expect to be surprised, amused, excited, horrified, and saddened, and sometimes within the same scene. Whatever you expect, prepare for more.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

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