The Dragon Engine
Blood Dragon Empire series book 1
Author: Andy Remic
Publisher: Angry Robot
591pp (eBook edition)
Release date: 3rd Sept 2015
reviewed by Chris Amies
“The Dragon Engine” tells the story of a group of humans who embark on a quest to possibly save the life of one of their number. And to claim the treasure of the supposedly lost Dwarf kingdoms while they’re at it. It begins, as such stories may, with a feast and the swearing of mighty oaths. In fact a lot of swearing generally. This is far less well-mannered fantasy than we have been used to in the past; the word Grimdark has been used and we are now habituated to such grim, bloody-slogging nightmare (or those people who read/watch it are) from Mr Martin’s Game of Thrones.
On the one side of this savage tale you have the band of fast friends who have, they thought, put their soldiering days behind them and taken to the pleasures of love, food and drink, but who come out of retirement for this quest. Our viewpoint character here is Beetrax, a huge axeman, uncouth and violent but who has hidden depths and capacities. On the other you have their enemy: a thoroughly nasty culture living underground and who are ruled by a dyarchy – so called because each ruler wants the other to die? Separation of church and state has led to on one side a king who might not be that nice but does believe that people shouldn’t be tortured to death; his opposite number is Skalg, Cardinal of the Church of Hate, who has no such qualms and is a colossal pervert, brutal both sexually and otherwise. Insurrection is in the air which means that by the time our heroes get there the situation is going to be even more complicated.
This is an impressively bloody novel, with no quarter given or asked from the many vicious fights and nasty situations our characters get into. The language is equally foul and indeed certain words crop up so often it’s beginning to look a lot like Tourette’s.
As well as the opposing titans already mentioned the other characters are well drawn, the relationships between the adventurers giving them a plausible back story. This is a novel which in many ways plays with fantasy tropes – dragons, dwarfs, stew (why is it always stew? as Diana Wynne Jones asked in ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’: but it always is) and while using them goes beyond them. There are indeed dragons and what became of them, and the Dragon Engine of the title, is the engine (as it were) of the novel.
This is volume 1 of a new series which going on the evidence here will be worth keeping up with. I write this as someone who doesn’t really do Fantasy unless its characters can take time out for a latte (i.e. the Urban subtype) but go on, Andy Remic, do go on, you have convinced me. Not that the world depicted is one I would like to live in – not given the likelihood of sudden brutal death or worse – but in its sweaty, bloody self it is worth a visit.
Chris Amies Writer and translator
Reviewer biography: Chris Amies
Chris Amies was born in the suburbs south of London and lived for many years in Hammersmith, which district still appears in much of his fiction. He is the author of one published novel, one non-sfiction book (about pubs) and 25 short stories though the number is increasing, and has reviewed fiction for the BSFA and Tangent Online. He is currently preparing a collection of his older published works and recently diversified into anthology editing and full-length translations from French. His website is at chrisamies.com