The Dragon Engine – Andy Remic

Andy Remic‘s new novel, The Dragon Engine (Angry Robot, published 1 September 2015, review copy via NetGalley), aspires to be an old-school D&D style adventure story.

A group of seasoned adventurers come out of retirement, lured by the promise of treasure.  That treasure is not just the prospect of wealth beyond a person’s wildest dreams, but also a cure for the bone cancer afflicting one of the party.  But, inevitably, the treasure and the quest turn out not to be what any of the group expected.

My heart sank in the second chapter of the novel, when we were introduced to Skalg, one of the villains of the piece.  He’s an extremely unpleasant dwarf priest who has crawled his way up to the top of the Church of Hate (yes, really).  But Remic feels the need to bludgeon you with lazy and offensive tropes by making him physically deformed and having Skalg use his position of power to force a pretty and very reluctant junior priestess to have sex with him.  Repeatedly.  Rape in chapter two is never a good sign.  I finally gave up on the novel towards the end when sexual violence and threatened sexual violence were used yet again to ‘torture’ our heroes.

Not that the heroes are any better characterised than the villains.  Lazy and offensive stereotypes abound.  We are initially introduced to Dake, a classically dull as ditchwater hero, who is besotted with his wife Jonti.  Jonti is apparently dying from bone cancer, but seems in remarkably good health, able to engage in a physically demanding adventure and a lot of sword fights.  But it turns out that the real focus of the story is Beetrax, an axe-wielding oaf with an intermittent heart of gold.  He’s trying to get back together with his ex, a pacifist witch called Lilith.  Who’s a vegetarian (yes, really).  Despite her objections to all forms of violence she seems pretty happy to accompany a bunch of fighters on a dangerous quest.  The party is rounded out by a promiscuous gay guy called Talon, who conveniently becomes bisexual later in the novel so he can be paired up with the other member of the party, an exotic femme fatale called Sakora, who seems to think silk harem pants and bare feet are suitable clothing for going hiking in the mountains in winter.

The plot has holes you could drive a coach and four through.  For example, it’s never explained why the noble and heroic Dake would serve as Sword Champion to such an unpleasant ruler as King Yoon (Remic’s ‘subtle clues’ that Yoon is not a nice man include that he wears make up).  Surely a man of his principles would have mounted a coup at the earliest opportunity?  The remainder is predictable stuff.

If you like this style of book, then I’d recommend Jen Williams instead.  She’s head and shoulders above this nonsense.

Goodreads rating: 1*

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