Dragon in Chains
by Daniel Fox
Review by Colleen Cahill
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345503053
Date: 27 January 2009 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Stories of dragons seem to be relegated to young people today, with the popularity of the Eragon and other such books. But the dragon is traditionally portrayed in legends of the past as a fierce monster, one that is to be feared for its destructive power. With Dragon in Chains, by Daniel Fox, we have a return to the dragon as a powerful force, one that is no friend to mankind. In a place were an Empire is perhaps falling, a chained dragon could be another tool used for ambition.
Set in an oriental background, Dragon in Chains centers on Taishu, a remote island of the Empire, but still vital to its existence. Not only is there a dragon at the bottom of the bay, held there by chains enchanted with spells and watched over by dedicated monks, but in the mountains beyond the village are the jade mines.
The lives of many here are changed by two great events: pirates kill the monks, breaking the chains holding the dragon, and the court and army of the young emperor arrive while fleeing from a rebel force. Both have come to Taishu seeking something; the Emperor seeking to protect the jade, a source of his power, and the pirate captain searching for something the monks had which is also a source of power.
The story unfolds through the eyes of several characters, including Mei Feng, granddaugter to a lowly fisherman who finds herself courtesan to the Emperor; Han, an apprentice scribe captured by the pirates; and Yu Shan, a member of a clan that mines the jade, all of which is property of the Emperor. As rebel forces bring chaos and destruction, the pirates seeks to release a force they little understand and the secrets of jade are revealed, and the people of Taishu are put into more and more danger.
Even though many of the characters in this work are young, in no way should this be considered a story for children or even teens. One reason is the author does not gloss over any of the dark side of the story: the opening chapters describe Han and another boy being forced into a fight to the death by the pirates. This is a hard world, full of struggle, pain, and death and the author makes no attempt to soften it, but the violence and blood is not gratuitous or titillating; Fox is showing the reality of these situations while also revealing the nature of each character. He does a splendid job of this, wrapping the mystery of the dragon and the jade in a truly involving story.
Dragon in Chains is the first volume of the Moshui, the Books of Stone and Water series. It has a bit of a cliff hanger ending and this compelling tale has me hoping the next book will be out soon. A great Asian fantasy, I recommend this work for all who want an adult dragon book.