Friday, August 9, 2019

The Dread Wyrm By Miles Cameron

The Dread Wyrm 

By Miles Cameron

The Dread Wyrm is book III in the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron. We've already reviewed The Red Knight and The Fell Sword, books I and II in the series. Before I start I want to slap up a spoiler warning, at this point there is no way for me to review the book and discuss the characters without involving some at least minor spoilers. So if you're interested in reading these books without me ruining the surprises... Go read them and come back. Seriously this review will still be here. So now that y'all have been properly warned, let's just jump right into it.

The book takes place entirely in the land of Alba (aka Not England), the kingdom of men that lays right up against the bounds of the Wild, the wilderness where many non-human races dwell in strange and alien civilizations. Things are not going well in the land of Alba. Our protagonist and increasingly grumpy hero Gabriel, aka the Red Knight, is returning home from the ancient Morean Empire a conquering hero and newly made Duke of Thrace and is expecting to take part in a Tournament where he can cement his reputation as a great warrior and general once and for all. When in actual fact, he's walking right into a civil war on the brink of exploding, just when the no-longer human-sorcerer Thorn has gathered new armies of creatures from the Wild to hurl into Northern Alba. Worse Thorn has ceased to be a free agent and is now nearly enslaved by something even more dangerous and wicked then he is. On top of all this, Gabriel has to deal with the fact that his mother is coming to visit him and is towing along the lady of his affection, the Nun Amicia (Wow mom. Wow.{She’s an abusive, controlling sorceress, what are you expecting here!?!}). Amicia is still keeping to her vows and has only grown more magically powerful in the meantime but let's focus on Alba first.

Now in the last two books, the nation of Alba increasingly found itself hosting an ever-growing army of foreigners from Galle (aka Not France). That's not a metaphor, this is a literal army of foreign Knights and their soldiers who have moved into the capital, started taking positions in the government and are quietly trying to push the natives out of the government (And the Kingdom… tolerates this? In the actual middle ages there would be a not-so-civil war already. Nobles would be hacked apart during peace talks on bridges etc.{The common folk burn down the archbishop's palace and the city militia has a street fight with the Galle’s infantry, I wouldn’t say they’re tolerating this.}). To the point that the arch-bishop is now a Galle and is preaching against the native orders of Knight-Wizards who hold the Wild at bay through combat ability and magic use (Now that just seems counter-productive.). The Galles are led by Jean De Vrailly, who believes himself the greatest knight alive and is almost as good as he thinks he is (Oh god. A narcissist. Though not uncommon for medieval nobles. Most of them were arrogant man-children So points for authenticity!). I would like to take a moment to really take a look at our antagonist because I think he's a great one. I loathe De Vrailly. I mean I really hate the guy but I love the amount of work and complexity that has been poured into him. Because De Vrailly isn't some schemer or underhanded baby-eating monster, he's a person who honestly believes what he is doing is ordained by God and is the best for everyone (God save us from people who believe themselves his annointed.). Now, that’s easy to say but where Mr. Cameron shines is in getting you to believe that De Vrailly actually believes this. To the point where he thwarts his own allies plots if they don't match what he believes is honorable. That's not to say he's a good person, what he believes is honorable is incredibly self-serving but you realize that De Vrailly lacks the self-awareness to recognize this. So when De Vrailly demands that there be a trail of combat to prove the guilt of Queen Desiderata even when his own cousins and allies are practically begging him to just kill her and be done with it; you realize this is a guy who sincerely believes that all the terrible things he's done are right and justified and that God is smiling down on him. I can almost see De Vrailly as a victim of his own culture, but his fellow Galles and members of his family don't feel so bound by the code of honor that De Vrailly preaches. Even the other honorable Galles think that De Vrailly is incredibly self-serving in his beliefs but is willing to take on the burdens those beliefs demand down to the last jot and title. To the point that when berated by a twelve year old for taking hostages dishonorably he gets down on bended knee apologizes and admits fault. While being willing to massacre defenseless peasants for daring to demand he obeys Alban law, and burn a woman alive. Not to mention his pure rage at having the common people of Alba resist his authority and his troops and even dare to fight back against their abuses (There we go. There’s that civil war!). I find De Vrailly morally hideous but a wonderfully realized character and the type of person that is unfortunately found everywhere and in every time.

Vrailly has come to Alba because he has visions of an angel promising him that he will be the next King of Alba (Delusions of grandeur, check!), but to do that he's gotta get rid of the Queen Desiderata because she's pregnant. So Vrailly and his allies have accused her of adultery and trying to plant a bastard from one of her lovers on the throne. This is easier to sell than you would think because the King believes himself sterile to a curse that... Well, he earned that curse by raping his sister, Gabriel's Mother (Woah! And we’ve gone Full Game of Thrones. Well at least there is a curse for that…). In fact... Gabriel is the result of that. Now Desiderata was unaware of this and honestly believed her husband to be good, if not a very wise man (Honestly this is really common. “Oh, my husband would never do that, I know him!”. We see it all the time. Even when it's their nine-year-old saying he touches her.). This is actually very believable to me, because way back in the first book, The Red Knight, my first real impression was that the King was generally an okay guy who just wasn't very wise or smart. As the plot unfolds though more and more of the King's character flaws become apparent and you generally find yourself swinging between contempt and pity. The pity comes from just how badly he's being used by the Galles because since De Vrailly can't be everywhere, they're willing to drug him into suggestibility and encourage his self-destructive habits (How honorable of them). What makes this a civil war is the number of Albans willing to side with the Galles, for personal gain or because they're afraid not to or because they think the Galles can do a better job holding back the wild.

Our mercenary heroes cannot afford to just focus on human problems though. Thorn has finished rebuilding himself and his army but finds himself in thrall to a greater darkness with a greater agenda. One that may lead to the destruction of the whole of human civilization as a prelude to the real campaign of destruction. Thorn is coming and he intends to burn the entire north of Alba into ashes and to avoid making the same mistakes he did last time, he's found himself an ally. That being Hartmut Li Orgellus, who was introduced in one of the many, many plotlines of the second book. Hartmut is also a Galle, sent into the wild north of Alba by their king to create a Gallish presence there and destroy the northern frontier of Alba and thus any resistance to De Vrailly. Hartmut is in a lot of ways De Vrailly if you stripped away most of his good traits. He's ruthless to the point of condoning slaughter and depravity, overriding his own officers when they object. He refuses to even speak to commoners, issuing orders as if he was speaking into the thin air. On top of that, he's a hypocrite as he insists that everyone who fights him should follow the rules of chivalry while ignoring any part of chivalry or any other ruleset that would restrain him in any way whatsoever. So, of course, he's willing to ally with the genocidal Thorn and his crew of people eating creatures and monsters. Best of all, their first target is Gabriel's family home where his entire family lives. Well minus one brother who joined the mercenary company.

Luckily our hero isn't without his own allies. As always he has his own crack band of knights, men at arms and archers capable of fighting and killing humans or nonhumans with equal skill and fierceness. The armies of the Morean Empire are marching, due to Gabriel saving the Emperor's life in the last book. In the Wild, there are forces opposing Thorn and they have rallied around the Fairy Knight, a mythical immortal whose magical abilities and fighting skills aren't to be dismissed. Within Alba the forces of the north organize themselves and in the south, the common people stubbornly resist the demands of the Galles, even if it puts the capital city at risk. Gabriel is going to have to convince every one of these groups to put aside their feuds and work together long enough to avoid extinction. Thankfully no one is an idiot about it, but there is still some resistance to the idea of hanging together to avoid hanging separately. If anything I would say that's the overriding theme of this book. If we don't learn to hang together and deal with our differences constructively, then we're all going to be hanged separately and leave nothing behind but bones to be gnawed on. This is further supported by another theme: how easily the law can be subverted if we don’t all hang together and insist on its enforcement. The Galles can ride roughshod over a lot of people because people kept refusing to work together and force the Galles to respect the law. Often they went to the King to do it, only to find he was either uninterested or unable to enforce the law fully. Mr. Cameron makes a point in this story that the Rule of Law great when all of us are working together; but if enough people simply ignore the law or refuse to enforce it, then it simply stops working. Which is food for thought (I can think of a few… poignant examples). Still, Gabriel is a powerful sorcerer in his own right and one of the great knights of the age, so if anyone is going to do it, it's him. After all, while Gabriel thinks he's the smartest and most capable man in any room he walks into, he’s more often right than wrong and even when he's wrong, he's smart enough to realize it and recover from it. But Gabriel is finding himself with a long list of work to do (I can imagine his daily agenda…). He'll have to rescue the Queen and protect her child; put a fast and decisive end to the civil war before it starts and cripples them against the armies of Thorn, and then gather everyone together to effectively resist Thorn and his new master. He's also got to do this fast because everything is already kicking off. Even as he arrives the plots are spinning, the armies are marching and he is running out of time.

I definitely enjoyed this book more than the last one Fell Sword. The plot threads are all coming together, so I can see how the plots are related, there are fewer story-lines to juggle and the action is well written and paced. There's a lot of action here too, as there are about a dozen battles as the various forces struggle to unite for the decisive battle of the war. I will make a note though that no one is safe in this book. There are a number of viewpoint characters that have been with us the entire series who die and often their death is in a single line. Which is brutally realistic but might be a turn off for some readers. There are some new characters introduced but mercifully few since the cast of these novels is already so large. The world-building is slightly expanded but for the most part with the book taking place in Alba we just learn more about the places we've already been which I like. Honestly, I think this is the best book of the series so far. Much is revealed, many stories are tied together and we get the pay off that was denied to us in Fell Sword, in some ways it feels like Fell Sword was just build-up for this book. While the ending is open enough to continue the story (which is good because there are two books left) it is conclusive enough that the book is a full story all on its own. I'm giving The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron an A. It took a while to get here but it was worth the trip.

This week's review was chosen by our patrons. If you would like a vote on upcoming reviews for as little as a dollar a month, consider joining us at the poll for September is still open! Next week, we'll be reviewing a novella entitled She Who Hears All Whispers by DaVaun Sanders. An author whose work was reviewed in the dim early days of this review series (go ahead and look up the Seedbearing Prince for an example of Mr. Sanders work though!). Thank you and as always Keep Reading.

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