Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The King of the Crags"

Stephen Deas is the author of the acclaimed short story “The Snow Fox.” The Adamantine Palace (Volume I of The Memory of Flames Trilogy) is his first novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The King of the Crags (The Memory of Flames, Book II), and reported the following:
The King of the Crags is the second book in the Memory of Flames trilogy. It's been out for about eight months in the UK, and arrived in the US on the 1st of February. US readers are fortunate, in that the cover is graced by a piece of gorgeous dragon-art from the mighty Stephen Youll. In the first book, The Adamantine Palace, it was explained that mankind rules over dragons by poisoning them throughout their short and violent lives with a potion that dulls their intelligence to the point that they can be trained and ridden and used as weapons of war. In a stroke of misfortune, a white dragon called Snow, who might just happen to be the dragon on the cover here, went missing. She woke from her chemically-induced stupidity, remembered her past lives and her true nature and was – and still is – mightly annoyed.

No. Annoyed is not a word you use to describe a dragon. The blazing raging fury of an exploding star, that would be more like it.

However, as this is the page 69 test and not the page 1 test, I shall put Snow aside, for one of the major plotlines in The Adamantine Palace has nothing to do with dragons at all. It has to do with a conniving murdering but charming little bastard called Prince Jehal, and his equally conniving, slightly more murderous and certainly more unstable lover, Queen Zafir. Jehal spends a great deal of time pushing Zafir towards the position of Speaker of the Realms, the ultimate power and arbiter of the dragon kingdoms and ruler of the mighty Adamantine Palace itself, an ambition in which he ultimately succeeds.

The opening chapters of King of the Crags concern themselves with the two main threats that Prince Jehal now faces. Firstly there is the white dragon Snow, the danger from whom he remains blissfully unaware. Then there is the rebellion of renegade dragon-riders who have set out on a single-minded mission to burn his reign to ash and the dragon-kings and queens who may or may not be giving these rebels some tacit support. The threat of all-out war looms.

Jehal, in fact, doesn't appear until chapter eight of King of the Crags, and page 69 (in the UK edition) conveniently brings that chapter to a conclusion. It's a nice page to use, in fact, as it's the first insight in King of the Crags into the relationship that drove The Adamantine Palace to its final conclusion.
Jehal looked at Zafir's naked shape, sprawled out before him. Well it could be a lot worse, and one must confess to having found a few diversions, I suppose.

Above the bed, two pairs of ruby eyes looked down at him from the rafters. Jehal stared back at them. Two golden mechanical dragons, wedding gifts of the Taiytakei, imbued with magics that let him look through their eyes. Perfect spies and yet now he had no one to spy on. He had to wonder, sometimes, why they'd given him such precious things, and why he'd given one of them to Zafir.

No, that wasn't right. He knew exactly why he'd given one to the Speaker of the Realms.

He took another step forward, out onto the balcony until his toes curled over the edge. This time, if anyone saw him, what would it matter? The whole palace knew they were lovers.

This isn't what I wanted. I thought I did, but I was wrong. He glanced back at Zafir, watching her chest slowly rise and fall. If I was speaker, what would I do? Bathe in the power, in the glory, in the knowledge that there was no higher place to be? Yet I see now that the view from up here was far better when it was forbidden.


Of all the things that might have happened, of all the things he'd planned for, of all the fates that might have befallen him on his path to this place, here was an outcome he'd never foreseen. He was bored.

Jehal walked back to the bed. He let his eyes linger on Zafir for one last time and listened to her breathing, slow and untroubled. You understand, don't you? That's why you can't simply let Shezira go. Because then it would be over. He leaned down and gently kissed her hair. ‘Have a care, my lover,’ he whispered. ‘Listen to your advisers, for they're no fools. And please let us not become enemies.’

He picked up his clothes, quietly dressed, and slipped away.
But there's a civil war brewing! And a rogue dragon bent on the complete and utter destruction of almost everything he knows! How can he possibly be bored?

Thing is, he doesn't know how much shit he's in. He hasn't even noticed that he's standing in it. Hell - he hasn't even started to smell it yet, he's that wrapped up in his own smugness.

The weeks and months to come will be anything but dull. What the dragon-realms will need, more than anything, is leadership, strong, firm and decisive. What it won't need is a fatal schism between the two people who have just clawed their way to absolute power.

Fatal? Did I say fatal? Why, is someone going to die?
Read an essay by Stephen Deas on the "Memory of Flames" trilogy.

Learn more about the book and author at the official Stephen Deas website.

The Page 69 Test: The Adamantine Palace.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue