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Dragon Precinct
Keith R.A. DeCandido
Pocket Books, 262 pages

Dragon Precinct
Keith R.A. DeCandido
Keith R.A. DeCandido was born, raised, educated, and still lives in the Bronx. His editorial career started in college, serving on Fordham University's award-winning alternative newspaper. After graduation, he worked at Library Journal as an Assistant Editor, then freelancing. He worked for a number of years for Byron Preiss Visual Publications and Byron Preiss Multimedia Company. His first original novel is Dragon Precinct.

Keith R.A. DeCandido Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

Welcome to Cliff's End. It's the sort of city where sooner or later, everyone passes through and everything happens, and someone has to clean up the resulting mess. When legendary hero and adventurer Gan Brightblade is murdered in a seedy tavern, it's up to Castle Guards Danthres Tresyllione and Torin ban Wyvald to investigate. With unlimited overtime authorized, they'll leave no stone unturned and no merchant unquestioned as they get to the bottom of the mystery. All evidence points to magic, but who could kill one of the world's greatest heroes, and why? And why isn't the Brotherhood of Wizards cooperating?

Things rapidly get worse as the other members of Gan's adventuring party fall victim to the killer as well, the body count rapidly rising. Pressure mounts from high above as the Lord and Lady of Cliff's End take umbrage to their "close personal friends" dying, and Danthres and Torin have to fight through bureaucracy and recalcitrant heroes to get to the truth. Could it have anything to do with the rumors of a major-league evil wizard coming back to life?

Meanwhile, their fellow Guards pursue lesser cases, such as unlicensed spells, a serial rapist, some bad (and black market) glamour spells, rogue hobgoblins, con men, and gullible would-be champions of the oppressed. It's just another day for our heroes in the city that never gives you a break.

Dragon Precinct is the first original novel from Keith R.A. DeCandido, better known for his media tie-in novels (Buffy, Andromeda, Spider-Man, Resident Evil, Star Trek...) and hopefully it won't be his last, as he clearly has a good solid start here. To be honest, it's nothing ground-breaking; Simon Green's Hawk and Fisher series, and Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's Point of Dreams and Point of Hopes have done the fantasy world police procedural earlier and just as well, if not better. The setting has all of the traditional fantasy world aspects: humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, halflings, magic, swords, wizards, warriors, thieves, and so on and so forth. In that regard, there's very little new here. (Note I say very little, not none. I'll get back to that in a second.)

The murder mystery revolves mostly around misdirection, with all of our attention focused on one of several almost too-obvious suspects, almost bludgeoning the theory into unconsciousness as our heroes faithfully, and doggedly, dig through layers of lies and denials. Woven throughout this primary storyline are the secondary stories of the other Guards as they go about their own business, sometimes overlapping with Danthres and Torin, but mostly just missing them.

If I sound overly critical, it's only because I know DeCandido can do better than this. In some ways, Dragon Precinct is relatively straight-forward, with multiple teams of Guards following separate cases over the course of several days. In fact, I'm strangely reminded of Hill Street Blues, more than anything else. In other ways, it manages to keep away from the obvious expectations by going with the least likely explanation, as witnessed by the way our heroes are forced to ask the same questions over and over and over until one of the various people in the know allows as how yes, maybe there's a possibility that hasn't been mentioned.

So what's good about this? Well, DeCandido hints at aspects of the setting which really deserve to be further explored. For instance, Danthres, as a woman and a half-elf in a dangerous and authoritative position, has to deal with significant social pressure and bias. She has to be twice as tough and four times as determined as her partner, and her background contains some really dark moments. The revelation that in many parts of the world, half-elves are killed after birth leads to a host of questions, such as why and how they come to exist if their fate is such a dark one. The stranglehold on magic practiced by the Brotherhood of Magic suggests an interesting magical economy, and the brief exploration of "other" magics begs for further elaboration. Finally, and this is the best part, it actually looks at the attitude held by the authorities towards traditional adventuring parties, as well as the arrogance many of these parties practice (only we can save the world!) Dealing with the chaos and confusion left in the wake of these traveling heroic groups can be frustrating for the legal system.

So what's the verdict? Dragon Precinct is a strong fantasy story with a few telling flaws, but a solid base to work from. I really hope DeCandido will continue to explore the setting and the characters, and develop Cliff's End more. Right now, this is Hawk and Fisher-lite, but it has the potential to be just as good, maybe even better, than that series. And that's saying something in my opinion. Go ahead and check this one out.

Copyright © 2004 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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