Dan Wright asked me to read his novel "Gothon's Campaign". This is a prequel to the first Draconica book, "Trapped on Draconica" (which I reviewed here). It is actually two prequels because it is a combination of two previous works, "All Hail Emperor Gothon" and "Taurok's War". I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade.
All Hail Emperor Gothon flows pretty smoothly into Taurk's War. The later is a direct result of the former. In fact, the first scene of the latter is the natural consequence of the last act in the former. Additionally, the military campaign that begins at the end of the former also defines the conflict and direction of the later. This makes it easy to see the two stories as a single narrative. The crucial difference between them is the shift in protagonist from Eric Gothon to Bairn Taurok. The reason for the combination is arc welding.
I've been reading Mr.Wright's work since he published the first version of "Trapped on Draconica" and so I have seen the reconfigurations that have been put in place. He has used these prequels to start the work on the two-parter series finale much earlier than he did originally. Thus, there are now four books and prequel comic to set up for "Final Ragnarok". Now about the works themselves...
There's lots of darkness, tragedy and gruesome things happening in both stories, but there's also a counterbalance to prevent it from becoming a grimdark angst fest. Seldom do I find an author who can write "darkness" without "unrelenting gloom and doom". Kudos to Mr.Wright for that. In detail, there's lots of heavy emotion. It is good in both stories but better handled in the Taurok story. It feels more...authentic there. Perhaps this is because it is less of a character study. The Taurok story is a skillful balance of War is Hell with sweet family moments and soldier comradery.
The stories are a logical progression of events and escalation of conflict. While I have issues with the set up (see below), I can see how Erik Gothon could go from The Good King to Evil Overlord and how the two Taurok men arrived to where they were by "Trapped on Draconica". This is also the failing of the two stories.
They don't seem to have as solid a narrative thrust as the stories that chronologically come after them. It's more like they are goo that fills in holes inside a mold or the cracks in a sidewalk. Their events are meant to slot into events in later stories. It is interesting and I enjoyed reading them but they are not page turners. It's like reading two books filled with world building. Seriously, there is a lot of world building going on in these two books. I enjoy that. The other books were too focused on plots and driven by actions to go as much into lore, history, culture, etc. It's a different flavor of story, I suppose.
Now, for that problem I have with the first one. Erik Gothon doesn't have any idea of how to run a government which is the source of all his problems. He became emperor at a young age and then there's a time skip until he's an adult. That strikes me as Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot and it is especially striking because Gothon talks about all the progress the country has made since his tyrant father died. The Senate has been "guiding" him and supposedly tutoring him since the death of his father. Why doesn't he know more about statecraft? Surely his mother (whose opinion it is explicitly stated as always carrying heavy weight with him) would tell him to pay attention to his school work. This underpins all the bad stuff that happens through this book and basically the next three books so it's a narrative fulcrum.
Erik Gothon, emperor of Baalaria; this is the story that changes the reader's perspective on him from the one that they gained in "Trapped on Draconica". He's a Well Intentioned Extremist that basically went mad from a number of factors. It is a good example of how being "The Good King" means more than just making your subjects like you. Each step (or misstep as the case may be) is one towards the path of Slowly Slipping Into Evil. This makes him a tragic character.
Finn and Bairn Taurok are the main characters of the secondary story. I want to say that Bairn is the protagonist (there can only be one protagonist) with Finn as more his foil because of the narrative giving his inner thoughts most often and it usually follows him around instead of his father. They are a Red Oni Blue Oni pair because Bairn lacks his father's Nerves of Steel and acts impulsively.
Yoma and Lydia Taurok are the wife and daughter, respectively, of Bairn and part of the supporting cast in the second story.
I like Lydia. She is adorable. She has a small role in "Trapped on Draconica" and it is nice to see more of her at this age. A pleasant surprise is that she was a fan of Daniar Dragokin before meeting her based on a book series that dramatizes her (already pretty amazing) adventures.
Yoma is also an ascended extra. She starts as a sweet girl and loving wife and then becomes a Lady Macbeth (abeit a heroic one). The transformation is so subtle that I didn’t realize it until I wrote this review.
There is an interesting subplot with a rebel leader called "The White Sister" who can summon ghouls to fight for her. I would have liked to know what happened to her but given her last known circumstances, maybe it is better that I do not.
As for the villains of this story, this is basically the villain's side of the story. At times it can seem like Evil vs Evil because there are countries and organizations that are worse (much, much worse) than Baalaria and its military. The Viscount of Romano and the people working for him are awful, dreadful monsters.
I found a number of typos. Some of them change crucial meaning in a scene, which makes for a jarring reading experience. I informed the author of these errors before publishing this review so I assume that he has corrected them by now.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gothon’s Campaign" a B+
This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.
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Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).