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King's Dragon
Volume One of Crown of Stars

Kate Elliott
DAW Books, 623 pages

King's Dragon, Volume One of Crown of Stars
Kate Elliott
Kate Elliott published her 4-volume series, Novels of the Jaran, which follows the cultural changes of the nomadic Jaran from their first Earth contact to galactic politics. She is at work on an epic fantasy series, Crown of Stars. The first two volumes, King's Dragon and Prince of Dogs are out now and the other is to come with a second trilogy to follow. She also plans a prequel to The Golden Key, called The Iron Key. Earlier, she published four novels under her real name, Alis A. Rasmussen.

ISFDB Bibliography
Alis A. Rasmussen aka Kate Elliott Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katharine Mills

In King's Dragon, Kate Elliott lays out the first act of an epic clash of cultures. Beginning with the small experiences of two young people, she gradually widens them to include the whole sweep of her imaginary land of Wendar.

Alain is the adopted son of a rich merchant, promised to the Church. Yet in his heart, he wants to fight, to be one of the warriors celebrated in song. His chance comes when on his way to the monastery, he is stopped by a vision of the Lady of Battles and Eika raiders destroy the monastery itself. On his return, he is drafted into the service of the Count Lavastine, who needs every able-bodied person for his armies.

Liath is an exile but from what, even she doesn't know. Her father is a learned man, perhaps even a wizard, who has spent most of Liath's lifetime fleeing from his enemies. To protect her, he has told her nothing, but this strategy backfires when he is mysteriously killed. Alone and in debt, Liath is sold into servitude. She is purchased by Frater Hugh, who is ambitious far beyond his holy position, and lusts both for her father's mystic secrets, and for Liath herself.

In Wendar, Elliott has created a scene reminiscent of medieval England. There is a civil war, between King Henry and his sister Sabella. There is the outside threat of the seagoing Eika raiders. There is the heavy structure of the Church, devoted to the Lord and Lady and the blessed Daisan, its members individually displaying all possible traits from devotion to corruption. There is an elfin Otherworld, one of whose inhabitants is the mother of King Henry's controversial eldest son.

It has all been put together with considerable detail, but I thought there was a smell of stage-setting about it. In particular, I often wished that Elliott had not based her Church quite so heavily on the historical Christian one. I found it very disconcerting to encounter frequent undigested chunks of liturgical Greek and Latin. As well, given the differences between her culture and the historical ones, the similarities led me to speculations that didn't help in my suspension of disbelief. For example, would a religion devoted to a Lord and a Lady, which admitted women and men equally, still have developed the same structure as the Christian Church?

Elliott does this here and there throughout the book, taking scene and incident straight from history, and serving it up with barely a courtesy disguise. I don't know why this doesn't work for me; other writers (such as Barbara Hambly) can do it without my even noticing. In all fairness though, some readers will enjoy this. I recently recommended a favourite book of mine to a friend, who confessed that she had a very hard time with "all the made-up names and stuff." The familiar echoes of King's Dragon would make it an easier read. And there were certainly parts of the book that I liked.

Count Lavastine, for instance, has a pack of supernatural dogs, black as night, who will obey only him or his descendants. Where they come from, we're never told, but there's a legend about them, and we're told that, and we get to know the dogs very well besides. Lavastine himself is an interesting contradictory character beneath his icy shell. The Eika, the great threat to Wendar, are not mere Viking clones -- in fact, they're not human at all. Instead, they are strange, savage creatures with pack instincts and beastlike traits, and Elliott chillingly captures their alien mindset.

Overall, I would call King's Dragon a mixed experience. Elliott is a decent stylist. Her prose balances nicely between the archaic and the overly contemporary, and she pays attention to her characters. And, as I mentioned, there were things I really liked. However, the hefty creaking of her backdrop was often intrusive, and the plot is heading a little too heavily into the well-trodden ground of the multi-volume epic for my tastes, with even a budding and wholly obvious romance waiting in the wings. I should like to see some shorter pieces of hers, where her style and characters could shine unhindered.

Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills

Katharine Mills lives in Southern Ontario, surrounded by a great number of books and many large drifts of cat hair. She includes among her hobbies procrastination, shoe-shopping, wearing hats in public, and helping her husband garden. (His training is in Landscape Architecture and she espouses the 'one of everything, here and there' school of garden design).

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