Marc Turner – Dragon Hunters

marcturner-dragonhuntersOnce a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords, but she has no intention of standing down graciously. As part of her plot to hold on to power, she instructs an order of priests known as the Chameleons to sabotage the Dragon Gate. There’s just one problem: that will require them to infiltrate an impregnable citadel that houses the gate’s mechanism — a feat that has never been accomplished before.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. And when Imerle sets her scheme in motion, that enemy uses the ensuing chaos to play its hand.

Dragon Hunters is the second book in The Chronicles of Exile coming nine months after the first book When the Heavens Fall. I’m always a little leery of starting a series “in the middle”, but I was assured that the book stood on its own and I need to have read the first book to understand this one. Also, I looked at the synopsis and at that gorgeous cover and I was sold. Because dragons… obviously. The assurances were correct; Dragon Hunters stands alone beautifully, telling a highly entertaining, gripping adventure which I was loathe to finish. 

The story is set in the Lands of the Exile, a rich world that feels as if there is a mythology and lore to underpin everything. Of course, this is true for other books too, but in this case it was almost tangible. As the map included in the book attests, this is a huge world containing several continents, multiple seas and innumerable islands and the places we visit in Dragon Hunters are just a tiny part of this world. Yet it feels as if the reader could point to any given place on the map and Turner would be able to tell you about its history and inhabitants. In fact, it felt as if this could also be a setting for a table top game. But that strength is in a sense also the book’s — or rather the setting’s — weakness. Because there is a familiarity about the bones of the world-building. There is an extensive pantheon, with gods that may or may not intervene directly, there is an evil emperor (who doesn’t actually feature in the book), there are priests with clerical powers, mages, assassins, rogues, different races, and so on and so forth. Yet Turner brings a freshness to these familiar elements that I thoroughly enjoyed and the narrative gives the sense that there is much yet left to discover in his world for the reader and it whets the appetite for future stories.

Dragon Hunters’ narrative is essentially one of many storylines woven into a whole. They manage to show the incredibly complex political plotting that is happening in Olaire, the seat of the Storm Lords. While all storylines were interesting and none of them felt superfluous — something that often happens in these multi-storylined plots — I did have my particular favourites, namely Olaire Watchmen Kempis’ arc and that of the Chameleon priestess Karmel. Kempis is the kind of gruff, disreputable, and cynical keeper of the law, who pretends to be more of a misanthrope than he actually is. In fact, he is very much an unwilling hero, one who is seemingly only involve because he was ordered to be. I have a very large soft spot for this type of anti-hero and Kempis landed right in the middle of it. Karmel on the other hand isn’t a hero character. To be honest, I still don’t know whether she is one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, and what is more, neither does Karmel. I really appreciated her story though, both for the excitement of her mission and her role in the unfolding events, as for her backstory and her emotional development. Karmel’s story contains all of the themes that echo throughout the novel in different ways.

The themes that return in different incarnations in the various threads are grief, the importance of human connection, the destructive draw of power, and the need — and attendant complications — for family. All of the viewpoint characters deal with a measure of each of these, though they are differently apportioned in each case. Next to Karmel, the person who deals with them all most openly and compellingly is Agenta, a merchant princess, who I had a hard time connecting to emotionally, but who had a great arc. The importance of dealing with your grief and that no two individuals do so in a similar manner comes to the fore time and again. In addition to the four viewpoint characters, there are a number of secondary characters who dominate the page every time they make an appearance. My favourite of these was Mazana Creed, whose personality and charm just burst of the page. Though she is closely followed by Sniffer, Kempis’ partner and a redeemed rogue if ever there was one.

Dragon Hunters is a big book, weighing in at 672 pages in paperback, yet it is incredibly fast-paced. I love that all story arcs converge to the same locations and collide in the book’s climactic battle, when numerous smaller conflicts come together to create a big BOOM. The way they are woven together is great, as is the way Turner manages to untangle them into a resolution that leaves something to chew over as to what it all signified. Also there were dragons; great, hulking monsters, who are wild, aggressive and awesome. What more could you want? I truly enjoyed Dragon Hunters and I look forward to returning to the Land of the Exiles in the future.

This book was provided for review by the author.