Review: The Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell

dragons of dorcastleThe Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell
Series: The Pillars of Reality #1
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: Dec 2nd, 2014
Audiobook Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews

For centuries, the two Great Guilds have controlled the world of Dematr. The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything that humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of the world behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her.

Mari is a brilliant young Mechanic, just out of the Guild Halls where she has spent most of her life learning how to run the steam locomotives and other devices of her Guild. Alain is the youngest Mage ever to learn how to change the world he sees with the power of his mind. Each has been taught that the works of the other’s Guild are frauds. But when their caravan is destroyed, they begin to discover how much has been kept from them.

As they survive danger after danger, Alain discovers what Mari doesn’t know—that she was long ago prophesized as the only one who can save their world. When Mari reawakens emotions he had been taught to deny, Alain realizes he must sacrifice everything to save her. Mari, fighting her own feelings, discovers that only together can she and Alain hope to stay alive and overcome the Dragons of Dorcastle.

D.G.’s Rating: 4.5 skulls = A-

Imagine a world ruled by two enemy groups: mages & mechanics, both of which think the other is a fraud. Imagine what happens when a mage and a mechanic find themselves in a life or death situation and against the teachings of their guilds, decide to band together to survive. This is the setup for The Dragons of Dorcastle, one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Alain and Mari meet when the caravan in which they were traveling was attacked. Even though they don’t trust each other, they decide to stick together in order to increase their chance of survival. Very soon, they learn what they were taught about the other is wrong and that the “tricks” the other side employs are definitely real. As they evade their attackers and spend time in the desert, they learn that with all their differences, they also have lots of similarities.  They are the youngest mage and mechanic in their guilds and because of this, they are treated by their superiors with disdain.

Alain is outwardly unemotional, taught with torture to control his feelings as a way to attain power. His training was so brutal that he forgot the meaning of “help”, “thanks” and “friend” but as he spends more time with Mari, feelings start coming back. Once they are rescued, he cannot forget her and thinks she must have spelled him because why else does he find excuses to look for her? Mari, for her part, finds herself in a lot of danger and to her surprise, realizes that Alain is the only person she can trust. Something is wrong in their guilds and all their attempts to find answers are silenced. Soon enough they have to decide whether to follow their own path or to reject the evidence of their own eyes in order to keep belonging to the only “family” they’ve known most of their lives.

The story is fast paced with tons of great action and very interesting world building. Both main characters are well drawn and very believable. I’ve read many books with the “one person destined to save the world” trope but I could believe it of Mari. She’s a natural leader, kind, strong, smart, creative, caring and capable. I could see her desire to do the right thing and change things for the better. I could definitely understand why so many people were willing to follow her.

The romance in the story is substantial but there’s nothing mushy about it. Even though Alain and Mari are young (17 and 18 respectively), the story doesn’t have an young adult feel. There’s barely any physical description from either of them (no odes to broad shoulders or changing eye color!), just two people who fall in love for who they are.

You listen to me, you believe in me, you respect me and you care about me. You’re honest and smart, and brave and resourceful, you never ask for anything for yourself and you’re always there when I need you.

Is it a wonder that these two fell in love?

If the book has one flaw is that the Elders/Senior Mechanics of the Mage and Mechanics guilds are too caricaturish and almost clones of each other. I understand that they are supposed to be the same – meaning, that even though they are enemies, they are alike in their attempt to keep the status quo. No leader will change a world that will depose them, even if if it’s for the good of the majority. At the same time, their actions were so similar that it almost seemed like they were in cahoots.

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by the very talented MacLeod Andrews. He has a great range of male voices and his interpretation is very nuanced. Alain in particular is a challenge as his voice is almost always emotionless, but Mr. Andrews manages to imbue his statements with a directness that make him sound both serious and refreshingly honest.

I liked this book so much that I started the two following books back to back (something which I almost never do.) If you like fantasy, I simply cannot recommend this highly enough.

Series Reading Order
1. The Dragons of Dorcastle
2. The Hidden Masters of Marandur
3. The Assassins of Altis

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