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Last Dragon (Discoveries) Paperback – February 5, 2008
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About the Author
J.M. McDermott graduated from the University of Houston in 2002 with a BA in Creative Writing. He resides in Arlington, Texas with an assortment of empty coffee cups, overflowing bookshelves, and crazy schemes.
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If I were to give this book a single marketing pitch it would be, As I Lay Dying as an epic fantasy. Basic premise is a dying empress of a great nation is writing her biography to her long lost lover--in the form of short, disarranged letters--in hopes that he might write back to her before her final hour. Her life is fading even as she relates her story.
The story is told in short, clippy scenes that are scattered up and down the timeline of the novel in imitation of how memories work in real life (stream of conscious memories?). About two thirds of the way through the pattern becomes clear, but realizing the intricacy of the form makes the novel more enjoyable, so I won't give it away here.
The funny thing is, McDermott actually uses several epic fantasy tropes, but because of the story, the form, and the plot, the tropes get swallowed up by the greater whole. This is a story about how the empress became the empress, and how the empire became the empire, and how war, greed, but mostly happenstance played a part in all of this. But it is also so personal that most of the time you could forget about war or vengeance missions, and feel just the intimate connection with the characters.
This book isn't for everyone (there isn't a book that is). If you don't like literary writing styles, don't like nonlinear story structure, or are only interested in action packed pulps (I don't mean that as an insult, I love pulp novels) then you probably won't like this book. This book is a dream, a memory, a life, and a fantasy story all at once, and if that combination sounds appealing to you then you'll love this book.
This book is definitely one for rereading. Instead of the usual spoon fed over the top fantasy novel, McDermott makes you actually think. The chapters are incredibly short, with just enough details for you to paint the rest of the picture in your mind's eye. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and even bought two!
Follow the broken memories of a dying Empress from her youth in mountains to how she was pivotal in creating an empire. Zhan is a young woman whose grandfather has killed her whole village, leaving only the shaman's apprentice, Seth (his own son), and a simpleton boy. Seth and Zhan set out to find their relative in a strange city where they are separated. Seth falls in love with a gypsy woman, and Zhan is taken in by a paladin that served the last dragon. Together with a mercenary this unlikely fellowship travels in search of the murderer, and give a new meaning to the idea of a golem. They are thrust into power plays that will change the world beyond what they could imagine.
Sound good? It's because it is.
It's a great debut novel, and I'm looking forward to reading more by McDermott!
Thrust unwillingly to the role of shaman and apprenticed to her uncle Seth, Zhan and Seth travel in search of Zhan's grandfather, who has killed their entire family. Zhan meets up with the paladin Adel and they, along with Seth and his lover and the mercenary Fest, travel to find the fugitive grandfather and to recapture Zhan's land. Zhan, now a dying empress, is telling the story of this journey in the form of disjointed, unchronological letters to her former lover. Zhan is not the most reliable of narrators: there is a lot she may not have known for sure, got wrong, misunderstood, was reinterpreting after the fact, or maybe just didn't completely remember.
McDermott does well at creating distinct cultures in Zhan's world. Last Dragon is well written and, although challenging at times, is a beautiful fantasy book.
I received a free copy of this book as a participant in Apex's minion read and review in exchange for a honest review.