Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Answering Review Request: Trapped on Draconica

Dan Wright asked me to review "Trapped on Draconica" perhaps two months ago. I was reading another book at the time so I couldn't get to it until one month ago. Having finished it I have this to say: If the 'normal' fantasy novel were a hamburger, than "Trapped on Draconica" would be a turkey burger; the basic idea is the same but it's a different animal and so it has a different flavor.

In terms of plot it sounds standard: 'normal guy is whisked away to a fantasy world and faces off against an evil empire' but a reader will quickly see deviations. The first of which is that while Ben is The Protagonist, he is not The Hero. That role belongs to Daniar, a warrior princess of the kingdom that he appears in. The second is that Ben stays normal through this adventure. It's Dainar and Kalak who do all the fighting; Ben just stays out of the way and tries to keep up. The role of Supporting Protagonist shifts the story's center of gravity in a way that you won't see in many fantasy novels.

Further allaying my fear of cliches is the twists and turns of the plot. Mr.Wright is well aware of the conventions in fantasy and enjoys playing with them. In one scene he'll do what you expect and then in the next he won't and in a third it will seem like he won't but he will, and so on. One event will be described by one character and then later details will be revealed by another which pivots the event into a new light and meaning.

The internal consistency of the plot and its events should also be lauded. At no point did I think 'this is happening because the author wants it to happen' or ' he's holding the heroes back/pushing the villain up'.  Idiot Balls and Contrived Coincidences are no where to be found. The events develop naturally through cause-effect.

Mr.Wright brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. So many authors want to leave a sequel hook, or make the ending ambiguous or some other pretentious act. A true author lays out the conflict at the start and then resolves it by the end. Even in a series, where a sequel (or many) is expected, each individual plot in the series should be resolved within itself.

As good as the plot is, it's the characters that sell the show. Ben is a refreshing change from the norm: 'a normal guy who gains superpowers and becomes a hero in another world'. He's just tagging along and trying not to get killed. Though he does develop into an admirable young man by the end, he's never a paragon of wish fulfilment, which I appreciate.

All the characters have depth to them: Team Good is made of contrasting characters who put each other into sharp relief. For instance, Dainar is a Thou Shall Not Kill type of hero while Kalak is a Blood Knight who only joined her team for a better shot at revenge. Team Evil gets entire chapters to themselves so Wright can give them the same depth. Only one of them is truly evil. The mooks themselves get development. Wright never lets his readers forget that the endless soldiers of the Evil Emperor are people with their own lives and do not exist just so the hero can look cool beating them up or killing them.  There is one scene where a pair of prison guards small talk about this and that.

The artwork gets a paragraph to itself. Few novels have their own artwork aside from cover art or a snapshot at the beginning of chapters. This one has full page illustrations randomly (yet meaningfully) inserted in the middle of chapters, making them both an additional facet to the text and a treat.

The only major flaw I see in this novel is the prose. It can be clumsy and awkward.  There's overstating of some actions, telling the reader what the already know in others and so forth. Generally (perhaps eight times out of ten) it's not a problem because complaining would be nitpicking and/or me being a minimalist, but there is one scene that isn't as powerful as it should be because the prose isn't as good as it should be.

 I created a work page for it on TvTropes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Trapped On Draconica" an A+.

Click here for the next review request: Light and Dark: The Awakening of the Mage Knight

Click here for the previous review request: Nimpentoad

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