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Book Review: The Golden Cord by Paul Genesse

* Genre: Epic Fantasy; Coming-of-Age Fantasy
* ISBN: 1594146594
* ISBN-13: 9781594146596
* Format: Hardcover, 399pp
* Publisher: Thomson Gale Group (Five Star Imprint)
* Pub. Date: April 16, 2008
* Series: Book One of the Iron Dragon Series

In his first full length fantasy, Paul Genesse straddles the line between young adult and adult fiction. The Golden Cord is the first novel in a planned five book series called The Iron Dragon series. In it, a young man by the name of Drake (foreshadowing, anyone?) has his life turned upside down by two events. The first is the loss of friends at a young age, the second the arrival of two dwarves to his remote village, dwarves who are traditionally hostile to humans like Drake. Acting as their reluctant guide, Drake must help the dwarves Bellor and Thor find a lost mine. Meanwhile, Drake is fighting his own internal demons over the loss of his friend Ethan.

The world of The Golden Cord is an interesting one. Genesse has made humans and dwarves the prey of such mythical creatures as dragons, manticores, griffins and wyverns, as well as creating a few interesting hybrids (like wingaturs, a dragon/minotaur mix). Humans and dwarves live in fear of the more powerful winged creatures, which can drop out of the sky at will on the ground bound peoples. I found this to be a creative setting, and I think Genesse does a good job in creating his plateau world. He struggles a bit with distances, or at least his map and his narrative don�t always coincide, but this is easily glossed over.

Like a similar novel for teenagers, Christopher Paolini�s Eragon, the author has tended toward over explanation, especially in dialogue. Genesse writes tight dialogue, but like many new authors he is afraid that his readers may not get the subtler subtexts of the dialogue and so will through in a following sentence explaining the fears and rationales of the characters, even though the dialogue was quite clear enough. In some ways, this will stand him in good stead with younger readers, as they have more difficulty with the nuances of story, but to adults I think it might be a turn off, especially since it might make the reader feel like Genesse doesn�t trust him to understand the story. Such trust is essential in fantasy fiction, where an author must bring his reader to a state of belief in his creation. But for the less abstract teens, such explanation will likely be of benefit.

Genesse himself admits that his story is on the border of young adult and adult fiction. This is partly because there is a love story intertwined into the narrative, and secondly because there is at least one rather sexual scene. Although the two characters don�t sleep together, one tries to tempt the other with her body, and Genesse doesn�t shy away from describing the reaction of the male character to the female one. This is not something a reader of twelve or fourteen should read, although a sixteen or eighteen year old should have no trouble. The male character ultimately does the right thing and his restraint is a good example of what a person should do in the face of temptation. There is some swearing in the story as well, so the novel works best for children in their latter teens and adults looking for an epic fantasy with the same simplicity of plot as Paolini.

The Golden Cord is a pretty good first effort from an author who had only written some good short stories in several Daw anthologies, as well as being a full time nurse in Salt Lake City. I enjoyed reading as Drake came of age, became a hero, and developed friendships with his racial enemies. There is only partial resolution of the events in this novel as it is part one in a trilogy, but it is still a satisfying one. The big picture of the Iron Dragon series becomes clearer and clearer as the plot moves along and I think the final battle, and the resultant heroism of Drake is likely to be enjoyable to most fans of epic fantasy.

The Golden Cord is an average novel, neither particularly bad nor particularly good. There are some plot inconsistencies (although I read an ARC copy, so these may have been rectified by time of publishing) but Genesse is a good writer, and his story never plods, nor does it get heavy handed or pedantic. The Golden Cord is a pleasant read, enjoyable and interesting. Drake is an interesting character, both broken and heroic all in one. Genesse has the potential to be a great writer in the future, although this novel is only giving us hints of that potential. I think young adults will enjoy The Golden Cord more than adults due to their ability to suspend disbelief more readily, so I recommend giving this novel to your teen who needs more reading material like Eragon.

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