Before I read DRAGON BONES, ummm, it's a bit thick at almost 300 pages, I went back and re-read MASQUES, a modest 200 pages, just for fun. Maybe it's just coincidence, but I noted a couple of similarities in the heroes of each. Both Wolf/Cain in MASQUES and Ward in DRAGON BONES have had less than nice childhoods. Both have escaped from a father that is -- to put it mildly -- overbearing. Wolf/Cain feels a need to hide himself from the world either in Wolf form or in human form with scars or with his masque. Ward learned at an early age to hide himself by becoming a character other than what he really was.
Ward is the 19 year old eldest son of the Hurogmeten, the lord of Hurog (which means dragon.) They live in one of the five Kingdoms, where things haven't been going too well. Fewer crops are being raised, trade has fallen off, the mines have played out, winters are colder, summers are hotter -- in fact, it seems that most of the Five Kingdom keeps are losing more people than are being born. It hasn't always been this way. Back in the days of the great hero Seleg, it is rumored they had a dragon -- thus the name of the keep -- but for whatever reason, at that time they were wealthy and the dwarves even traded with them for goods.
The present Hurogmeten committed patricide to attain his position and expected the same of Ward. And so he beat Ward often, until Ward learned that appearing to be slow had its advantages. Keeps a body in better shape from a father who would be paranoid about a wily, agile first-born.
When Ward's father has an accident, he leaves Hurog in charge of Uncle Duraugh until Ward is older. To Ward, his father leaves his stallion, no doubt hoping the stallion will kill Ward and leave Hurog the choice of Ward's siblings: Ciarra, who is mute, or possibly Tosten, the younger brother who disappeared years earlier and is presumed dead, probably at the father's hands. To save himself against the machinations of his family and the king, Ward decides to become a hero and thus untouchable. He gathers a band of followers and they are off to defend Oranstonia against invading Vorsagians.
The majority of the story is told in the dry tone of Ward, who when he was rescuing his sister "worried about what I was going to do for the last ten feet [of rope], but I shouldn't have. The rope broke before I got quite that far."
He has a touch of Miles Vorkosigan in him, stumbling deeper and deeper into troubles and always trying to make the best of things and keep people he loves safe. This would be his gang: Oreg the castle ghost, who is "soul slave" to Ward, since he is now Hurogmeten; Ciarra, his sister, who can't speak; the slave, Bastilla, who has more than a touch of magic and is more than she seems; the stablemaster, Penrod; his father's retainer, Axiel, who knows much more about things than he should; and his brother Tosten.
What does the wizard Kariarn of Vorsag want with Ward? The wizard has made choices that has set him on his path. Seleg made choices that set him on his path. Ward now must make choices, just as his Uncle, his father, and his cousins have made choices. When you have only bad chocies to make, which one is the best? The one that causes someone a mortal wound but spares others? Or the choice that evens out the pain but causes it to continue?
I may have rambled a bit much -- this is a very tight book with wonderful characters and a quickly moving plot. Some things happen that you don't like. Some people you like get hurt -- some people you don't like get hurt. It's like a puzzle that you keep turning and twisting, trying to make the pieces fit.
Definitely liked the book, much deeper than MASQUES and a definite voice about choices we make in life and what they say about us. And as I re-read portions, I leave you with the memory that the prophecy etched into the wall of the keep was "The house of Hurog will fall to the underground beast." And the final words of the book <slyly> Hurog means dragon.--Barbara (27 Feb 02)
Well, it isn't a SFR. Yet. Although I have hopes of the redhead. This book comes to an adequate finish, but it is good to know there is a next book, because the answers we did get just raised a lot more questions.
Good book.--Lynn (01 Mar 02)
I'm *so* glad you decided to write a synopsis Barbara. I read it this weekend as well but I've been too lazy to tackle the job.
Ward is lovely and I enjoyed following him on his adventures. No romance to speak of but I'm going to hold Briggs to her word and expect plenty in the sequel and I know who I want Ward to end up with (I'm voting for the brunette). But it's not just Ward, there are a large cast of characters one comes to care intensely about, even unlikely ones like the king's lover and Ward's cousin. This is what hooks me into Briggs's books. As long as she continues to create such interesting people, I'm willing to follow along whether they're trotting over a continent or just staying put in one castle. Mind you, a map of the Five Kingdoms wouldn't have come amiss.
Coincidently, I reread MASQUES after I finished DRAGON BONES and I'm impatient for that sequel as well. I was complaining recently how books I've been reading lately just do not have great romantic relationships. That's what I love about MASQUES, Aralorn and Wolf satisfies that yearning - their relationship was inevitable.--Isabel (01 Mar 02)
I wish Briggs would start producing some sequels! Almost every book she's written has me wondering about what happens next.--Margaret (19 May 02)
I bought this when it came out but resisted reading it because it was part of a trilogy. I'd just finished a couple and was very down on them. Well, I picked it up not meaning to read it but just to get more of an idea of what it was about and Wham! I was sucked in. Briggs has such a comfortable writing style and creates immensely likable characters. It had a satisfying ending making this book stand alone and complete (unlike *some* first books in trilogies). Definite recommend.--Edith (28 May 02)
Just finished it tonight. No romance, but I really enjoyed it and am very interested in the sequel.
Ward was a wonderful character - his emotions were very real, without tipping over into the laboured angst of the "wounded hero" type. And Briggs could teach a lot of authors about pacing; the plot moves along as smoothly as a silk thread, never too fast or slow, and every event (even the big surprise) is inevitable.--Danielle (11 Feb 03)