Author: Jack Campbell
Series: The Pillars of Reality #1
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
The Overview: For centuries, the two Great Guilds have controlled the world of Dematr. The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything that humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of the world behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her. Mari is a brilliant young Mechanic, just out of the Guild Halls where she has spent most of her life learning how to run the steam locomotives and other devices of her Guild. Alain is the youngest Mage ever to learn how to change the world he sees with the power of his mind. Each has been taught that the works of the other’s Guild are frauds. But when their caravan is destroyed, they begin to discover how much has been kept from them. As they survive danger after danger, Alain discovers what Mari doesn’t know—that she was long ago prophesized as the only one who can save their world. When Mari reawakens emotions he had been taught to deny, Alain realizes he must sacrifice everything to save her. Mari, fighting her own feelings, discovers that only together can she and Alain hope to stay alive and overcome the Dragons of Dorcastle.
I really like the concept for this story – there are two different Guilds, one dedicated to Mechanics, the other to Mages. They don’t much like each other, which sets the stage for a lot of conflict. Add to that the mention of dragons in the title, and I knew this was a book I was interested in reading.
I especially liked the Mages vs. Mechanics idea because it was an opportunity to explore the conflicting concepts magic vs. science. Campbell did a great job integrating the two ideas into a single world, embracing that both were possible depending on your perception of how the world works. It felt like a solid framework to build from, and was probably my favorite element of the story.
However, as much as I liked the concepts, there were a few things about how they were executed that I did not enjoy.
For example, we learned about this framework for the world and how Mechanics and Mages see things differently through dialogue… and a lot of it. Endless pages of the Mechanic explaining how the Mechanics work, the Mage explaining how the Mages work, both of them explaining to other people why they made the choices they did. Then each would turn around and have a mental conversation with himself/herself to rationalizing what they just had explained to them. It was tedious. It also didn’t leave a lot of room for plot-advancement aside from their very thoroughly explored internal growth.
And it wasn’t even always that they were explaining stuff, but rather what they were explaining that put me off. Let me explain ;) – the Mages believe emotion is a weakness, so they suppress all of the things that make them human. But instead of just having the Mage fight not to act on certain emotions and concepts, the author chose to have him not be aware of those concepts altogether, which means the reader has to endure the Mechanic explaining to the Mage what words like “help,” “friendship,” and even “taste” literally mean. Now, I definitely don’t mind when authors take time to explain things to the readers, but they have to be things that don’t exist in our world that actually require explanation. Even if the Mages suppressed certain emotions out of their students, you have to start with at least a semi-understanding of the concept before it can be eradicated, right? In any case, I guess I just didn’t appreciate how it was written, and could see how a different approach might have worked better.
Furthermore, it made the Mage in question come across a little simple and juvenile which meant I had a difficult time taking him seriously. The Mechanic, on the other hand, was a really interesting character and I found myself enjoying her passages the most (although that could be because the plot only seemed to advance under her perspective). It’s also worth mentioning that the end half was better than the first half (because they stopped explaining stuff to each other quite as often), which is why my rating is a bit higher than it was going to be.
Overall, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. The great concept that got me to pick up the book in the first place was swallowed by needless repetition and dialogue. This is a shame because I finished the book still very interested in the basic idea behind it but lacking the patience to see how it will develop. I might continue on eventually, but it will be a hard sell. Despite my objections, I might actually still recommend it, especially to readers who don’t mind repetition (If you read The Sword of Truth series without once thinking “I’m really getting tired of hearing about the ‘Pristinely Ungifted,'” or any of the other of Goodkind’s repetitive concepts, this might be an excellent series for you). Like I said, the premise really was a good one.
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The fact that my additional recommendations are pretty eclectic shows that The Dragons of Dorcastle really was a unique book…