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Dennis L. McKiernan
Roc Books, 544 pages

Dennis L. McKiernan
Dennis L. McKiernan was born in 1932 in Moberly Missouri. He lived there until age eighteen when he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving four years during the Korean War. He received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri in 1958 and, similarly, an M.S. from Duke University in 1964. Employed at a R&D laboratory, he lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio. He began writing novels in 1977 while recuperating from a car accident. His novels include the trilogy of The Iron Tower, the duology of The Silver Call, and Dragondoom.

Dennis L. McKiernan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Writing of Dennis L. McKiernan: From The Silver Call to Dragondoom
SF Site Review: Once Upon A Winter's Night
SF Site Review: Hel's Crucible Duology
Dennis L. McKiernan Tribute Site
Dennis L. McKiernan Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rob Kane

Dragondoom is not a new novel, having been originally published in 1989, but has recently made it back into print. For those who missed the book the first time around, I cannot recommend highly enough that they take advantage of this opportunity and find a copy of the book to read.

Dragondoom is a bit of trip back to pure sword and sorcery type fantasy, containing all sorts of elements of a traditional epic fantasy. There are dragons; powerful, immortal, evil, and vengeful. Guarding their hoards and flinging death from on high to mortal creatures on the ground. There are humans; noble, strong, and adventurists. Dragon hunters and empire builders. There are dwarfs; proud with long memories. The loss of their greatest dwarvenholt fifteen hundred years ago is still fresh in their minds. There is the sorcerer; evil and scheming for power. He throws his power about to protect himself and his awesome treasure. And finally there are adventurers; courageous and unrelenting. The story belongs to them, with their long journey and what they learn along the way.

There are several plot lines that are told in this book; the primary one being that of the tale of Elyn and Thork. Elyn is the princess of Jord, a nation of plains people and horsemen. Fiercely independent, she spent her youth studying weapons and war with her brother Elgo, and is now the first warrior maiden of Jord outside of mythology. Jord has slowly rebuilding itself to its ancient strength but is now plagued with troubles. Black Kagalath, the mightiest of all dragons, assails the capital and a fierce war rages with the dwarves. Elyn takes it upon herself to seek out the Kammerling, a weapon out of mythology. Prophecy states that Black Kagalath will be slain by the hammer. Elyn hopes that the power of the hammer will free Jord from both the dwarves and Black Kagalath. Thork is a dwarven prince of Kachar, and one of their mightiest warriors. The war with the Jordians is one that the dwarves can ill afford, and Black Kagalath has trapped the dwarves in their deep caves. Thork's goal runs parallel to and against that of Elyn. He wishes to use the Kammerling against both dragon and man.

During their respective journeys, in search of the Kammerling, fate throws Elyn and Thork together. Dark forces turn against the two adventurers, and their survival depends upon their willingness to cooperate. The evil wizard Andrak is safeguarding the Kammerling for Kagalath, in return for Kagalath safe-guarding a secret of tremendous importance for the wizard. Andrak has sensed that Elyn and Thork may be the adventurers prophecized to retrieve the hammer, and is trying his utmost to ensure the two do not reach him. The core of the story is the long journey of Elyn and Thork and the changing dynamic of the relationship between the two companions. Through shared hardships the two begin to realize truths about the other and the other's people. Animosity is replaced by friendship and loyalty, though it is sorely tested at times. The characters are excellently portrayed, Dennis L. McKiernan has done a really good job at making the two seem believable.

The tale of Elyn and Thork is supported by other tales, providing the history of the current situation.The first of the childhood of Elgo and Elyn, and of their deep friendship. The second is of Elgo, Prince of Jord, and how his pride compels him to seek out and kill the Dragon Sleeth who had captured the Dwarvenholt of Blackstone long centuries past. It is a brief tale of bravery and cunning, vaguely reminiscent of the quest to unseat Smog in the Tolkien's The Hobbit. And finally, there is the tale of the war between the nation of Jord and the Dwarvenholt of Kachar. Once Elgo kills the Sleeth, Jord claims the treasure as its captured prize, believing that having been lost fifteen hundred years past it belonged to the finder. But the dwarves, long lives and long memories that they have, feel that by rights the treasure still belongs to them. This is a tale of negotiations gone bad, the curse of the dragon gold. What makes these tales so effective is in their method of telling. The main story of Elyn and Thork runs throughout the book, and every other chapter is a portion of one of these tales. As more pieces of the recent past are brought forward, the reader can appreciate even more the difficulty with which Elyn and Tork maintain their at first uneasy truce and later friendship.

Really good books are ones that can draw the readers attention and make the world come alive. Mr. McKiernan's use of language does an excellent job towards this end. Firstly, the reader can tell that McKiernan put a lot of thought into the language used by the characters throughout the book. The language used, the way phrases are constructed and the pronunciation, are perhaps the ideal romanticized fantasy/medieval language. It manages to appear as a valid archaic form of the English language, but at the same time avoids the cheesiness that can sometimes take over. The results is a flowing and natural dialect that is easy to read, and helps reinforce the atmosphere of the world the characters live in.

The author's excellent use of language is not limited to just the dialogue. While different from the dialogue between characters, the language used in the narrative helps to make the story more compelling. It has some really great qualities going for it. First, it still maintains a somewhat archaic seeming structure and vocabulary, which in a story like this greatly adds to the atmosphere. And at times the narrative almost seems to read like poetry, quickly paced and flowing.

This book was really a pleasant surprise, quite possibly the best book that I've read in while. With the great plot, strong characters, atmosphere, and all the other characteristics required for a good book, I'd say that this is probably as close to a perfect fantasy novel as I've read. I will soon be scouring bookstores to hunt done the rest of Mr. McKiernan's catalogue, and that more than anything is sign that I really enjoyed the book.

Copyright © 2002 Rob Kane

Robert learned to read with a litle help from Lloyd Alexander, and he hasn't stopped reading fantasy since then. No matter how busy life gets he can always find time for a good book.

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