Dragon’s Trail by Joseph Malik is a fantasy techno-thriller, which is to say it is a mash of two genres that rarely get seen together. The magical nature of fantasy—with elves and men riding about on horses, wielding swords—combined with the detail-oriented techno-thriller, which uses technology to solve whatever horrid problem is facing the main character and the world that particular day. This story follows two people from Earth: Jarrod, a former fencing and martial-arts master who now works as a stuntman; and Carter, a former linebacker who has a penchant for medieval style fighting. These two are summoned to Gateskeep, where they are tasked with getting the army up to snuff in order to combat a sorcerer named Ulo. Jarrod and Carter do this, only they bring some of the might and knowledge of Earth with them. The result? A fantasy with huge amounts of actual information on fighting and strategy, where the characters have an advantage and are still faced with struggles, and where the major conflict hinges on bringing a gun to a knife fight, relatively speaking.
1. Thoughts on the plot
If you look at this story from the surface level, the plot is a fairly typical portal-fantasy novel. A person—usually from Earth—is brought in, accidentally or otherwise, to solve a massive problem facing some fantasy realm. This person applies their Earther knowledge and faces the fantastical challenges with great aplomb. Or, at least, a whole lot of style. If you zoom in to the plot, this story is a whole lot more complex than the typical fantasy, portal or otherwise. There is strategy behind the decisions that characters make on either side. The things that you would expect to be so are not quite what they appear. And the characters from Earth are indeed quite capable and do have great style and aplomb (I’m looking at you, Carter, with that massive suit of armour) but face actual challenges from all quarters.
Then, there are the technical details that make this a techno-thriller. Technology is central to any society. This book explores the technology of the time and does so in such detail that you know precisely that it matters. A lot. And, as it turns out, the technology does matter. A lot. These details, combined with the strategy of a grand-scale fantasy, make this plot one of the more interesting and complex ones that I have seen in a while.
2. Thoughts on the main character
Jarrod is the primary main character here, though Carter plays a rather significant role. Initially, he seems a bit arrogant and probably mad at the world. However, it is soon shown that he actually knows what he is doing and asks rational questions. Okay, yes, he is still arrogant, but there is reason.
The interesting part is watching Jarrod’s development as he explores the world surrounding Gateskeep. He doesn’t change quite so dramatically as some characters do in fantasy novels, but it is definitely there. The arrogance, though, doesn’t ever really go away. Frankly, I’m okay with that. It makes him an entertaining character and I enjoy the snark a fair bit.
3. Favourite part
Well, I’m a linguist. I shall say, then, that my favourite part of the book started with the discussion of the phonetic attributes of the word gbatu and continued with the various descriptions of the language-learning process. I liked all the technical pieces, too, but honestly, language. What’s not to like?
If I had a critique for this book, it would be one of two things. I would say that Jarrod and Carter seem to make mincemeat of their challenges. The odds are stacked in their favour, for obvious reasons. However, since that is rather the point of the book and the challenges are, well, actually challenging, I would say just sit back and enjoy the technology. Even if you have to look up some of the terms.
The other critique I have is that the map at the back of the book is rather unhelpful for people like me who need a map constantly.
Basically, the few critiques I had were more or less irrelevant.
My overall rating for this book is definitely EXCELLENT, which tops the scale. A good way to start the year, no? Now, on to book two, where I imagine things are going to get rather worse for our characters. This should be quite entertaining.