Tracy & Laura Hickman,
Mystic Warrior
(Aspect, 2004)

Tracy Hickman and dragons go together as well as -- well, almost as well as Margaret Weis and dragons. So it's no surprise that one of the co-creators of the Dragonlance Chronicles has written another book involving dragons. In this case, Mystic Warrior is also book one in yet another fantasy series. (Doesn't anybody write stand-alones anymore?) The trick to making these series interesting is to have a world that the reader enjoys entering and learning more about. Does that happen in this case?

I'm happy to say that Hickman, and his wife, Laura, have created a novel world using some standard fantasy tropes and turning them on their side a bit. While some cliches are still used (dwarves live underground, dragons are mean and nasty), they add just enough new stuff to make a fascinating first book.

Mystic Warrior is a tale of three different worlds. All of them occupy the same space, but on different planes, and communication between these worlds is only possible for certain people through what appear to be dreams. On the faerie world, the inhabitants are under attack from hordes of satyrs and centaurs as their way of life is threatened. On another, goblins scour the countryside looking for ancient machines that can be made to work, especially signs of the old Titans who inhabited the land before goblinkind.

On the human-dominated world, Galen is a master ironworker along with the dwarf Cephas, who runs the forge. Each year, the local religion runs what they call an "election," where people who have some form of insanity are magically brought out and taken away. Galen has had objects talking to him for years, but he has managed to avoid being present for the election and has thus been passed over. Not this year, however. Taken away from his loving wife and his livelihood, he is forced into a war between five dragons that have marshaled their forces for 400 years, fighting insignificant battles over nothing. But Galen discovers that the "insanity" that made him one of the elect is actually a form of magic, a magic linking all the worlds together, allowing one of the faeries, the winged woman of his supposed dreams, to aid him. But will he survive long enough to learn what this magic is?

I loved the concept of these three linked worlds, especially when images are taken from one of the worlds and seen by other characters who have no idea how to interpret them. Dwynwyn -- the winged woman Galen sees -- has her own problems in the faerie realm dealing with her people's problems. However, she and Galen are linked in some mysterious way, and they end up helping each other even though they don't understand what it is that they are seeing. The main goblin character, Mimic, is also involved in some other, more obscure way. The other characters never see him, but the war between the mechanical beings that he sets up for his ruler, the Dong Mehaj-Megong, to enjoy bears a striking resemblance to the war that Galen is currently fighting in.

The story takes us along the three storylines, jumping back and forth between them as we see the rise of Mimic from a lowly 4th-class engineer to much higher in the goblin social structure. We see Dwynwyn's attempts to safeguard her charge, the princess Aislynn from the onrushing hordes and a forced marriage to cement an alliance that would bring her people to the point of oblivion. The Hickmans slowly start to merge the storylines as the book wears on. At first, each story has its own chapter, using the chapter breaks to jump to something else. As things become more tightly entwined, the breaks are more frenetic, jumping three or four times per chapter and ramping up the tension. This effectively darkens the mood as we come closer to understanding how everything links together. The pacing of the book is really nicely done in that sense.

This caused me to read the last half of the book at an accelerated rate as I wanted to find out what happened next. Unfortunately, the first part of the book dragged at times. I wasn't as interested in the characters as I could have been, especially Mimic and the goblins. The goblin world is given short shrift in the beginning, and thus the scenes that take place there aren't as interesting as the other two worlds. It would have been nice to learn a little bit more about goblin culture aside from the acquisition of mechanical artifacts and how possession of these is the ultimate status symbol.

The other problem is with some of the characterization. It isn't necessarily bad, but it isn't that interesting, either. Galen tends to whine a lot after he is selected, and while that may be understandable in real life, it's not that interesting to read about. Tragget, the Inquisitor of one of the dragon's religions and the person who saw Galen in his dreams, is a bit more intriguing, but the political fighting within the church just becomes boring. It picks up when we start to learn the secret behind the religions, especially how all of the dragons interact. After that, the book grabs you and doesn't let go.

It's a shame that the beginning is such a struggle, as Mystic Warrior would be a first-rate book otherwise, and one I would recommend wholeheartedly. Instead, it's just a very good book. It will be interesting to see where the Hickmans go with this. If the more boring set-up at the beginning of this book becomes necessary in subsequent books, I'll stand corrected. That doesn't mean that it couldn't have been made more appealing, though.

- Rambles
written by David Roy
published 24 July 2004

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