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Book Review: The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

# Genre: Epic Fantasy
# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: Roc Hardcover; 1 edition
# Publication Date: February 2, 2010
# ISBN-10: 0451463137
# ISBN-13: 978-0451463135
# Author Website: Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace is the debut novel by British author Stephen Deas. First in a planned trilogy, the narrative whisks the reader away to a far and distant land where dragons are the domesticated servants of humans. Nearly mindless due the medicines of the alchemists, the dragons of the Realms serve the nobility as pets, hunters, war-steeds, and messenger pigeons. But such was not always the case in this world of courtly intrigue, and a rogue white dragon may become the key to unraveling all that humanity has built in the thousand years since it first conquered the dragon race.

Deas’ dragons are dangerous, intelligent when not controlled by tinctures, and still very much beasts. No one is safe from their fire or need to consume food, not even those who raised them. Deas intentionally sets out to make his dragons alien, unknowable and inscrutable – and he succeeds. That success is born from the writing of the seemingly standard interactions between man and beast (man and beast thrown together into adversity; man and beast finding common ground; man and beast finding they share a common enemy, etc.) that reader’s usually find in tales about dragons, which are then twisted around by surprise action after surprise action to be a complete 180 degrees from reader’s expectations. This is in part what makes this novel such a remarkable debut. Readers will enter with a set of expectations, a belief in the sameness of every epic fantasy -perhaps expecting a typical dragon story where boy/girl or man/woman meets a dragon, befriends it or saves it, and they harry off to save the world from some evil villain – only to find that The Adamantine Palace is anything but.

There are no villains here, nor are there heroes. Although the dragons are alien, the people are all too human. Much of the storyline is told through the eyes of characters whose socioeconomic class makes them the rulers of the Realms. It is their courtly intrigues which drive much of the primary plot. Like George R. R. Martin and others before him, Deas has chosen to title each chapter by the name of the character whose first-person perspective we enter, and like Martin, none of these characters are in any way likable or even potentially heroic. They are mostly self-serving, and when not self-serving, they are weak or foolish. The entire story is mostly a tale of courtly intrigue, with a few pauses for action-adventure and a surprise ending, but it is the ever present question of who will rule the Realms that keeps this fast-paced plot (in part due to its short, clipped chapters – there are 70 in 368 pages of material) speeding along.

It is strange how the mean, spiteful, even villianous characters, when not set against the perfect hero, become so very intriguing. By not having a clear, shining beacon of “goodness” against which to set the action of the “villains” the reader is able to really find logic to the actions of the characters. Readers will likely come to see some characters as more self-serving than others, but there is maybe only one character that the reader will hate as a villain. But one man’s villain might be another’s hero. After all the reader has a plethora of characters from which to choose.

The Adamantine Palace is superb reading. Deas builds a story with no clear villains of heroes that falls into few of the standard tropes, but yet has all the elements that make for great epic fantasy. This is one of my favorite reads so far this year. Highly recommended.