Dragons of Dorcastle is the first book in the Audiobook-first fantasy series Pillars of Reality written by John G. Hemry under his Pen name Jack Campbell and Narrated by Macleod Andrews for Amazon’s Audible service.
The setting is your traditional fantasy setting with one particular twist: There is technology.
The world of Dematr is dominated by two guilds, the Mechanics Guild, who insist in having total control over all technology as well as the knowledge of how to operate it and abusing this to do whatever they want, and the Mages Guild, who teaches it’s mages that the world is nothing but an illusion and that everyone outside the guild are nothing but shadows to ignore and bassically do whatever they want. In the middle are the commons, who are told by both guilds to deal with it.
as you can probably tell by that last sentence, commons are abused by members of the guild on a regular basis and unable to do anything about it because of the services they both bring and how dangerous it would be to confront them. The Mechanics keep the trains working, give electricity to the different cities, etc. Meanwhile, the mages can use their magic to do things outside the reach of the Mechanics such as Foretold, the ability to see into the future, creating fire out of nowhere, summoning creatures or casually breaking the rules of physics by creating holes in the walls. Because of this, Guild Members are able to do whatever they want and treat the Commons like low class citizens (an attitude encouraged by the guilds themselves).
However, both Guilds are sworn enemies who refuse to acknowledge the other’s abilities as little more than tricks to fool the Commons, and while they encourage treating Commons poorly, the Guilds enforces it’s members to ignore the other guild and treat them as frauds. This is the way the world has been since recorded history.
This is the setting in which the book starts, where we meet Alain, the youngest mage of his Guild, who gave him the task of protecting a caravan travelling to the City of Ringmon. Before the end of the first chapter, the caravan wiped out by a Bandits attack and Alain discovers that the person the caravan was escorting, and the only other survivor of the attack besides him, is a Master Mechanic named Mari. The youngest Master Mechanic in the Guild’s history, in fact.
Despite a rocky start, the two of them quickly agree to make an alliance and try to survive as long as possible.
From the sound of it, this is a pretty standard plot: two members of rival groups have to work together and learn from each other. Hell, you can probably tell what is going to happen between our two protagonists just by reading this. However, this book has two things that work toits advantages: it understands this story has been told before and it’s two leads are extremely likable.
The book doesn’t waste time waiting for it’s protagonists to meet, it does so in the very first chapter. It doesn’t waste time having the leads fight each other, they manage an alliance in the second chapter, a few chapters later they part ways and try to pretend nothing happened, then they meet again at the halfway mark, etc. The book’s fast pace goes through this motions to get them out of the way as fast as possible and focus on what it actually wants to tell. This doesn’t feel rushed, however, but rather natural development of these two characters we have been following.
It is the characters the other thing that really elevates this book for me. Mari and Alain are extremely likable characters, so well rounded in the first few chapters that you forget that they are the only two major characters in the entire book. Sure, there are other named characters, but aside from a few flashbacks they are mostly minor characters. They are also both well distinct from one another, with different personalities that we are able to follow when the point of view changes between them.
They are smart, they do not get into petty fights or misunderstandings, they try to understand each other and grow. This is not to say that they don’t have conflict, it’s the opposite, in fact. Because of the different set of values they were taught since very young, a lot of the interaction is trying to understand the other. Mari has problem understanding Alain’s “nothing is real” approach to things as well as his complete lack of emotion, however she is able to piece together the kind of things Mages do to their apprentices and sympathize with him, She even insists in treating Alain as a person. Likewise, Alain is confused by Mechanic tools and often tries to apply magic rules to them and his lack of emotion makes it harder for him to understand Mari’s ever changing attitude. However, He is still able to recognize Mari’s talent as a Mechanic (not a fraud as his guild made him believe) and respect her an her skills.
The relationship is something i find refreshing, while they both are confused by the other’s attitude to the world, they still speak as equals. There is no passive character, both of them have a saying in things and both of them make an effort to understand the other. They complement each other so well that it’s not hard to believe what happens at the end. Two strongly written characters create a strongly written relationship, shocking, i know. It’s a good thing because Mari and Alain, as well as their growing friendship, is the core of the book. If they weren’t well written, it would probably fall apart.
I say Core of the book but the truth is that there is no much of anything else, the rest of the story is mostly world-building and foreshadowing of things to come and there is little to no plot aside from that. Sure, there are things that happen and our heroes do stuff, but the mysteries our heroes try to uncover go unresolved and they do not actually acomplish anything.
MaCleod Andrews Narrates the audiobooks and he does a wonderful job at it. His voice range is able to easily make Alain and Mari’s voices distinctive enough to know who is speaking. Altough i swear one of the Senior Mechanics and one of the Elder Mages have the same voice.
This is a pretty good book, even though it has little actual plot. As a Fantasy book, it assumes the reader if familiar with the genre and let’s some things go unexplained, focusing instead of what is different in this particular world. It is, however, not a stand-alone. It’s the first chapter in a series and it’s not self-contained, very few of the plot threads introduced here are resolved and are left open intentionally.
This is not to say it doesn’t stand of it’s own. As i said, the characters are likable enough that they are able to carry on the story on their own.
Dragons of Dorcastle is available in Audio format on Audible, as well as an E-Book on Kindle or as a physical book.