My story of discovering Melanie Rawn started decades ago with a bookmark. My mom would always go to this Hallmark that was a franchise. The owner apparently thought it would be a good idea to have a bookstore at the back of what was a large Hallmark space. And, apparently, the owner had a taste for sci-fi/fantasy books because that was one of the biggest sections in the store. I loved it. We’d stay in the store for hours. My mom would look at cards for hours, picking out the just-right card for some occasion, while I roamed the long corridor of sci-fi fantasy books. That greeting card shop is where I discovered Ben Bova’s Grand Tour books, where I found a book that remained my favorite for some time–The Blood Jaguar, and where I’d spend my early teenage years looking at heavy metal magazines. Yeah, it was an awesome Hallmark.
Anyway, one day, I bought a bookmark at the store that showed this mysterious orange dragon standing regally on a rock. I bought it for the same reason kids buy any bookmark: it looked cool. I used it for years, then misplaced it, but then found it again during a move. I was looking at it one day, having possessed it for more than ten years, when I noticed that it was based on the cover for a book: The Star Scroll. On a whim, I looked up the book online and discovered it was the second book in a trilogy with pretty fantastic reviews. I searched for the author, Melanie Rawn, and saw several posts about how she was a forgotten major voice in epic fantasy. I saw the first book, Dragon Prince, was just $2.99 on Kindle and snagged it. I read it late at night in bed, just a few pages at a time, and was overcome by this fascinating world Rawn had created. Then, I got my mother-in-law to start reading the books, and she loved them, too. So here we are, with me hoping to get you hooked on them, too. I’ll try to keep the spoilers mild.
The Dragon Prince Trilogy
At its core, this trilogy is a story of political intrigue in a fantasy setting. The first book, Dragon Prince, centers on a young prince as he solidifies his power during a festival in which leaders from all over the continent have gathered. Essentially, it’s a time for matchmaking and Prince-making. There’s no king, and the different princedoms exist in relative peace. But behind the scenes, there are wars of words and power plays that are constant. Rawn weaves an incredibly intricate plot. Moreover, she’s an absolute master of characterization. These people all feel completely genuine. They have real motivations. They’re flawed. They make huge mistakes. They even do vile, repulsive things when they’re truly good people. But that’s like the real world, right? Good people still sin. Good people still make mistakes. And, occasionally, a circumstance turns a good person into a monster.
Anyway, in Dragon Prince I encountered some of the most exciting political machinations I’d read in a book. There are parties where the characters are all trying to pair off and determine how the power might shift. There’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever read: a horse race with several layers of drama overshadowing the main event. It’s just fantastic, thrilling writing front to back. But it’s thrilling in the sense that you want certain characters to succeed and others to fail. You, as a reader, feel their successes with them. You bemoan their mistakes. Yes, there’s action in the book, but it’s largely a few major climaxes in the midst of what is largely many people working to accomplish goals through intrigue. There’s also Sunrunning–a fascinating magical system that depends upon the light of the sun to work.
Having read the first book, I moved on to the book that inspired me to buy the whole set: The Star Scroll. The cover actually has a person with the dragon, which was different from the bookmark which featured only the dragon. Anyway, the second book has quite a bit about a certain Star Scroll and some forbidden magic that I don’t want to spoil. The characterization is once more excellent. Rawn truly makes it seem as though the characters are real people with real motivations that go beyond the normal fantasy tropes. The magic system continues to be fascinating, though I think there’s untapped potential that gets more fully realized in the concluding book.
Finally, the trilogy wraps up with Sunrunner’s Fire, which has one of the most epic fantasy duels I’ve ever read. This brings the series to including two of the most memorable moments I’ve read in fantasy. I won’t spoil it at all, but wow, this is a superbly written scene. And, again, Rawn brings the characters to life. One thing that impressed me in this is the diversity of experiences, along with how she writes different generations in compelling and genuine ways. Rawn is a true master, and we need to acknowledge that! The series ends with an open thread, but thankfully the next trilogy is already complete. I’ll be moving on to that one next.
Content warnings: the books do have scenes featuring sex, including sexual violence. There is also warfare, murder, and abuse. I would not recommend this for children at all.
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