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The Rambling Writer Book Review: THE SCHEMES OF DRAGONS and THE WIZARD’S NEMESIS by Dave Smeds

The wizardry and plots only thicken with books #2 and #3 in this epic struggle of humans versus dragons in a vividly original fantasy world.

Full disclosure repeated: Back in the 1980s, Dave Smeds and I were both being published by Ace Books, and we became friends at science fiction and fantasy cons. I greatly enjoyed the first two novels in Dave’s fantasy series starting with The Sorcery Within. Fast forward a few decades, and now we’re both members of the publishing cooperative Book View Café. I was excited to learn that Dave had recently finished the third novel in the series and updated the first two novels in new BVC editions. The Sorcery Within is a terrific read, even better than I recalled, and I can hardly wait to read the rest of the series. A bonus are the gorgeous new covers, as Dave is also a gifted cover designer – I’m thrilled with the covers he’s designed for my BVC novels.

(See his BVC blog post of  3/17/24 that explains his design process, and my BVC post of 2/3/24 for a review of book #1, The Sorcery Within.)

Novel #2:

The Schemes of Dragons finds the cast of characters, as well as the locations, expanding from the main focus of Alemar and Elenya in the desert, searching for the magical gauntlets hidden by the original Alemar centuries ago. The twins have retrieved the powerful weapons, but now the search is on for a warrior who will be a full adept in tapping their powers. Toren, a member of a race of secretive, forest-dwelling people, is captured by the rebels due to his uncanny tracking abilities. He is persuaded to travel across expansive terrains to consult a powerful wizard who will decide if Toren is the true adept. Many adventures ensue, as Toren learns about a wider human world and comes to accept his destiny. Meanwhile, Keron, Alemar, and Elenya muster forces on different fronts – on land and beneath the sea – to confront the armies and corrupt wizards enforcing the dragon Gloroc’s violent tyranny.

Again, the fast pace and gripping battle scenes (both martial and magic/internal) keep the pages turning. Characters also continue to evolve and struggle with ambiguities involving the cost of this war in innocent lives. Particularly interesting is Toren’s tribal tradition: He has ingested the memories of his male ancestors, who sometimes aid him and at times condemn him for abandoning their “correct” ways. When those voices are silenced, he suffers great loneliness; when their voices return, maybe he wishes they hadn’t. (It’s complicated, one example of what makes Smeds so strong in creating complex characters.)

The tension ratchets up as everyone prepares for the final desperate confrontations with the forces of the dragon.

Novel #3:

The Wizard’s Nemesis expands the terrain and raises the stakes still further, after the revelation that there is more than one dragon to fight. The odds seem hopeless for the exhausted rebels, but witnessing more brutalities from the dragon’s minions, our heroes – men and women, warriors and “ordinary” folk – realize there is no choice but to continue.

Starting with a vivid scene fifteen centuries earlier, we witness the daring fight between the original Alemar and two dragons, the parents of Gloroc. Then we’re back in the “present” with the rebels pursuing separate battles in the big war. Alemar and Toren, battered and discouraged, take a risky path using underwater breathers and helpful dolphins to seek the enemy in his own undersea capitol fortress of Dragonsdeep. More magical weapons are reputedly hidden there, though they are warned their plan is suicidal. The description of the underwater city built within an impenetrable dome by the original Alemar is marvelous, and I really want to visit!

Despite the beauty of the city, the citizens reveal the dragon’s oppression by their fearful, furtive behavior, and Alemar points this out as further reason to continue the rebellion. Then new characters complicate the quest, raising new questions and issues, challenging Alemar and Toren to rethink their plans.

Meanwhile, Keron, now officially Prince of Cilendrodel, leads an alliance of rebel armies, making inroads against the dragon’s holdings and armies. Elenya is fighting more guerilla sorties with small bands of land-based rebels to hold back the expansion of the Dragon’s armies as they plunder villages with violent brutality. Again, the battle and hand-to-hand combat scenes are gripping and believable. Elenya is betrayed by supposed friends as she and her band seek shelter from relentless pursuit by a powerful wizard serving Gloroc and determined to exact vengeance on Elenya. She escapes but with possibly permanent damage to her leg that will likely end her heroic warrior career.

Full of exotic locales, creatures, plants, and terrains both wild and human-built, this novel brings it all to a rousing conclusion that springs yet another unexpected twist to the tale. Keep it up, Dave Smeds!

*****

You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s Greek islands novel  from Book View Café is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. (And BTW, this cover was designed by Dave Smeds.) Sara is at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com

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