The young emperor, Chien Hua, has been forced to flee his home after power-hungry generals seized control. He finds himself in exile on the island of Taishu, where he takes a feisty young fishing girl, Mei Feng, to be his companion. Hearing that the emperor is so close, Yu Shan’s clan send him from the jade mines of Taishu to deliver a large piece of jade, but this seemingly simple mission turns into a big adventure for the young miner. Elsewhere, a dragon lies sleeping on the bottom of the sea, held in chains by the will of a group of monks and their blacksmith. When the monks are killed, a young man named Han must take on the burden of the dragon chains, but as the dragon fights for her freedom it seems impossible that one man can keep her chained. As the army hunts for the emperor and the dragon strains at her chains, the fate of the entire empire rests in the hands of just a few.
‘Dragon In Chains’ is the first book in the epic fantasy ‘Moshui Trilogy’ from Daniel Fox, set in a place clearly based on Imperial China. Right from the first chapter, I was drawn into this beautifully constructed world and soon found that I couldn’t put it down. Whether sailing through storm-tossed seas with Old Yen on his fishing boat or trudging through the mountains with Yu-Shen, each location was vividly evoked, resulting in the kind of fully immersive fantasy world that I really enjoy.
The characters are also well portrayed, with each person having definite individual traits and personalities. ‘Dragon In Chains’ is split into three or four different story threads and so there are quite a few characters to maintain in your head. I often have difficulties with this kind of storytelling (I tend to find it jumpy) but because Fox had made each of the characters so individual I actually found it quite easy to keep track of things in this book. Each thread was as strong as the others, so there wasn’t one weak plot that let things down and the way in which they all linked together was really quite satisfying.
The title of ‘Dragon In Chains’ and the cover art depicting a dragon might lead you to think that this is a book focused on the dragon, but in fact she is almost an aside to much of the narrative. However, although not always the main focus, the dragon is cleverly done, providing an undercurrent of tension and terror that continues through the story. She is always in the background, lurking in the back of your mind and leaving you wondering if maybe this time the dragon will break free and wreak devastation.
The combination of wonderfully imagined locations, depth of characters and fast-paced plot make ‘Dragon In Chains’ one of the best fantasy books I’ve read this year and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Daniel Fox carries this through to the end of the trilogy.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 399 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50305-3)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com