Sunday, September 02, 2007

Book Review: Bitterwood By James Maxey

Bitterwood by James Maxey
Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fantasy
Bob's Thoughts: "Dragon Fan or Not, You Must Read This Book!"
Grade: A
Available at Your Local Booksellers.

OK, all my comrades in the fantasy geekdom hold your ears for a moment....

I've never been much of a dragon fan. Typically, if I see a book is dragon-themed, I usually move right on by. I really don't know why, it's not the creatures themselves, I think, maybe just the way other characters respond to them. I've never been into the dragon as a metaphor, the good dragon vs. bad dragon dichotomy, or even dragons as the archetype of medieval fantasy. Honestly, if I look into it, I really think, for me, it's a response to the trauma of my nightmares after reading about Eustace cannibalizing another dragon in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Of course, I was like 6 years old when I read that. I may have wet the bed that night.

So, I found myself looking for a good fantasy book to read. Outside of Harry Potter, I have mostly been reading Thrillers lately. But, I know there are some good fantasies coming out soon, particularly the new Locke Lamora and Thomas Covenant novels, and I really wanted to get into a fantasy state of mind. So, when I heard some people recommend this book Bitterwood, as a Post Apocalyptic Fantasy with Dragons, I put aside my childhood nightmares, and purchased the book.

On the surface, Bitterwood is a typical fantasy revenge thriller. Bitterwood, the main character, is on a mission to kill all the dragons in the world. The dragons rule the earth, and keep humans as slaves or pets. Plus, they killed his family, what kind of fantasy character would he be if he didn't vow to wipe them off the face of the earth. So, for years he carried out his revenge, until, the rumors say, he died with a band of rebels in the Southern Rebellion. Then, years later, during a competition to determine the next heir to the throne, the King's son is slaughtered, his dead body found riddled with Bitterwood's signature dragon feathered arrows.

That of course, pisses the King off. So, he decides the best way to deal with Bitterwood, and those who harbor him, is to wipe humanity off the map. While many dragons find his genocidal policy abhorrent, few are willing to stand up to the King.

Now, let me stop right there with the Plot description, because, honestly, you will find the much better descriptions elsewhere on the web. Also, a simple overview of the plot does a disservice to this book. Maxey piles layers and layers on top what seems like a typical fantasy story. He builds one of the most intriguing Post Apocalyptic worlds I have seen in a while, yet, doesn't dump it all on your head in one big scoop, but doses it out expertly, changing the story both subtly and drastically. By the time you reach the satisfying ending, you aren't reading the book that you thought you were, not anywhere close to any blurbed reviewer's description.

One thing that I found intriguing in this book is the dragon's portrayal. Not being a huge dragon fan, I had no biases or expectations on how dragons should act, yet, if I had to guess, it wouldn't have been like this. What struck me early was the Anthropomorphism. These dragons displayed some shockingly human traits and emotions that I wasn't sure how to react. Was this just bad writing? I highly doubted it, being the book was so well written. The dragon characters, no matter how human like, were well developed personas. If fact, their complexity, and political savvy rivaled many of the human characters that show up in the Big Fat Fantasies like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet, as the world became more and more revealed, the dragons become more and more understandable, and by the end, these dragons were exactly what they should be in this tale. Don't make the mistake of comparing these dragons to what dragons should be. Their character is what is important, not being able to fit them into comfortable stereotypes.

Fans of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, and David Gemmell's Jerusalem man series should cheer this offering by James Maxey. He fills a much needed void in the world of Action Sci/Fi Fantasy. Every year, it seems, one book comes out unexpectedly out of nowhere and reminds me why I love to read. One book sucks me into a new world, which I don't want to leave. Last year, that was Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, the year before EE Knights Vampire Earth Series. This year it's Bitterwood. I'm glad I took the chance and read it.

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