Indie author, Stephen Swartz’s recent novel is an ambitious project, titled EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I’m just going to say at the outset—this is not your grandma’s epic fantasy.
But first, THE BLURB:
CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!
And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired with the Prince to banish him from the city.
Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.
As dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive - and perhaps return home - no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.
I liked the early draft but enjoyed the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.
Swartz’s dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. It is Earth as we know it, but it is a future Earth radically altered by genetic tinkering. What the world was like before the genetic apocalypse is no longer even a part of their history. It is a place where dragons constantly fly overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. To combat such a menace, an elite corps of “gamekeepers” has evolved, and Corlan considers himself the best.
The society Corlan lives in is mysterious and dangerous. The perils are not always obvious at first glance. Violence is a fundamental part of life. At the outset, Corlan is arrogant and full of himself. He is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s greatest protagonists embodied.
All of the traditional tropes of epic fantasy are present: the princess, the wizard, the kitchen boy, the warrior, the traitor, the thief—all the usual suspects are in place, but with Swartz’s unique twist. The various cultures, the wonderful creatures he rides, all have roots in what is familiar, yet they are taken to an extreme, bringing a uniqueness to this tale.
Swartz’s prose is heavy with words, immediately establishing an atmosphere of barbaric splendor. Corlan’s purely human hubris, the unusual and mysterious settings, the people he meets who help him along the way—all these elements combine to make a story unlike any other.
Naka Wu is a wonderful character, as is Tam. Without them, Corlan would be just another dead failed hero. Corlan suffers from an over active libido, which he soon realizes is not in his best interests. In Corlan, the Heroes’ Journey is both a physical and a mental one, culminating in a complete spiritual death and rebirth.
I highly recommend this book to fans of epic tales and the hero’s journey.