Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton

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A surprisingly exciting novel, Duncan M. Hamilton’s first instalment of the Dragonslayer trilogy is an enjoyable read, full of strong characters and a fully engaged plot. The reader is immediately sucked into the fantasy environment, in a world that isn’t too far removed from our own. Multiple plot-lines and viewpoints give the novel that added depth, which helps pave the way for the two future books. While the plot of Dragonslayer is an unarguably a typical and recognisable story, Hamilton has given the novel his own voice and a somewhat updated feel. Readers will be left full of anticipation, as Hamilton uses his storytelling abilities to finish on just the right amount of suspense.

I admittedly have very little experience in reading fantasy novels, however Hamiltion thankfully pushed aside all my previous perceptions on the genre. I was pulled into the story of Dragonslayer from the very first page, which started off largely cinematic, and gave hints to the dramatic and epic story that was to follow.

We’re introduced to Guillot and his downtrodden yet generously heroic personality, making him the ideal protagonist for this tale, as he journeys towards redeeming his reputation and discovering more about his legacy. Guillot is an easily likeable and believable character; he has the trauma, drive and generosity that we would expect in a plot like this, so his actions and growth fit the novels pace perfectly. Indeed, the pacing of the novel is one of its major qualities; we’re not rushed through a world that feels unfamiliar, yet we never tire of the character interactions, and the action-scenes come at just the right moments.

Soléne, our powerful female protagonist who aids Guillot in his quest, and ultimately undertakes her own path of self-discovery, is a refreshing addition in a genre usually dominated by male characters. While there is still an uneven split between the two sexes, I enjoyed that Soléne’s appearance was very little referred to, and Hamilton didn’t rely on a traditional ‘love-story’ sub-plot for the two leads. While there is undoubtedly a connection, it feels platonic and evenly matched, and it was heartening to watch Soléne grow into her powers and maintain this strong presence in the novel. In fact, many of the novel’s most impactful characters were female: a brave warrior fights the dragon to her death, while a mysterious mage-like teacher guides Soléne on her magical endeavours. While it obviously wasn’t the main intention of the novel, it did make it that much more enjoyable, reading the portrayals of these strong, female characters.

We also got an insight into the various characters that Hamilton creates for us. The altering viewpoint between Soléne, Guillot and even the dragon are well-done, and again aid the novels pace and creates suspense. While Guillot’s story was the most important, Soléne’s sub-plot was equally interesting and offered a different kind of story – one that was more focused on the magic and societal workings of the fictional world. However, it was the dragon’s monologues that captured me the most. These glimpses into the mind of this powerful creature is a great decision from Hamilton, setting his novel apart from the traditional ‘dragonslayer’ plotline. There is a unique richness to the dragon’s inner speech, a humanity that we would have otherwise not considered, causing the reader to feel conflicted on which decision to support. Because of this, the dragon-fight scene doesn’t feel a ‘victory’ in any sense, and we get an indication that there is much more to come. Rather, it feels like the start of something darker, greater, and much more complex than our initial judgements led us to believe.

The other action scenes added an exciting element to the novel, however they didn’t take away from the progressing narrative and didn’t feel overdone in any way. Personal taste often means I can ‘switch off’ during such sections, however this wasn’t the case in Dragonslayer – rather, I enjoyed them. I loved the blend of magic with the sword action and classic punch-ups, and despite the fantasy elements, they felt largely believable. They didn’t take up valuable pages of the book, and rather refreshingly, characters actually got injured and took time to recover – even the skilled ones. What Hamilton has somehow achieved the most is providing us with a relatable and realistic fantasy novel.

While this was an enjoyable and pleasantly surprising read, I would have liked to have been further immersed in this impressive world of the Dragonslayer. We do get some insight into the villages, towns and cities of the land, and the ways in which they differ from each other, however I didn’t feel this was quite strong enough to paint the vivid picture that Hamilton intended to convey. The environment had to battle against the powerful characters and storyline, and unfortunately it did fall flat for me in places. While I was thankful that there wasn’t too much to ‘learn’ about the world, and anything that I did need to know as a reader was revealed to me at just the right moments, I would have liked to have seen a bit more richness into the environment and a more distinguishable world, especially as this concept has been portrayed before in literature, and could have done with an extra level of uniqueness.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Guillot, Soléne and the rest of the characters in the Dragonslayer, a novel which left me eager to uncover the mysteries that Hamilton teases us with. Despite being an unfamiliar genre, I was happily impressed and proved wrong. Hamilton has considered each element of his novel, leaving us with an introduction to the strong personalities and intriguing developments in the world of Mirabaya. A great start to what will no doubt be a riveting trilogy.

Dragonslayer is published by Tor Books and is published here.

Duncan M. Hamilton

Duncan M. Hamilton holds Master’s Degrees in History and Law, and has practiced as a barrister. He lives in Ireland, near the sea. Hamilton’s debut novel, The Tattered Banner, first of the Society of the Sword trilogy, was named one of BuzzFeed’s 12 Greatest Fantasy Books Of The Year in 2013. That book was followed by The Huntsman’s Amulet and The Telastrian Song, and by Wolf of the North, a Norse-inspired fantasy trilogy.

Reviewed by Mariah Feria

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