Dragon Precinct, by Keith R.A. DeCandido

Dragon Precinct, by Keith R.A. DeCandido book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: eSpec Books
Published: 2018 (2004)
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by David L. Felts

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Dragon Precinct was originally published in 2004. I’m glad to see a re-release and push of these fun stories.

The blurb on DeCandido’s first original novel (he has written shared other shared-world novels) Dragon Precinct is “…a cross between Lord of the Rings and Law & Order.” It’s an ambitious statement and not entirely accurate; it has nowhere near the scope, breadth, or depth of LotR. I can’t speak for the Law & Order part, since I’ve never watched the show. What DeCandido has presented is a police procedural set in a standard Dungeons & Dragons world. And I’m OK with that.

The action takes place in the port city of Cliff’s End. When a party of famous adventurers rolls into town, four of them are murdered in the space of a few days. Two members of the Castle Guard are assigned to investigate. Torin ban Wyvald is a red-bearded human with a laid-back style. His partner is Danthres Tresyllione, a female half-elf, half-human, with a nasty disposition (which, of course, is only a cover to hide a kind and wounded heart).

It’s a high-profile case, since the murdered heroes were personal friends of the Lord Albin and Lady Meerka, the rulers of Cliff’s End. When the local M.E. (magical examiner) fails to uncover the involvement of magic in the murders, ban Wyvald and Danthres have to resort to a more feet-on-the-street approach to track down clues. And the dead heroes’ companions are obviously not telling the whole truth. DeCandido throws in a few unrelated side stories and characters–a serial rapist, black market magic and other typical day-in-the-life fantasy events–to flesh everything out.

Dragon Precinct offers up your standard mix of stereotypical fantasy trappings; seedy port city, dwarves, elves, halflings, and other assorted fantasy races, barbarians, magic-users, wizard’s guild, etc…. they are here in all there fantasy role playing game derivative glory. Change a few names and Dragon Precinct could easily have been published as a Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance book.

Despite its role-playing roots, Dragon Precinct rises above its origins through the strong development of its characters and setting. Researching DeCandido’s bio, I read that he was an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons. Turns out that Torin ban Wyvald and Danthres Tresyllione, the two main characters in his book, were the same characters he played in his role playing days. This probably explains his obviously intimate understanding of the them and how good a job he did writing about them. The same goes for Cliff’s End, which happens to be the same city he had many of his RPG adventures in. Yes, it’s your stereotypical fantasy port city, but DeCandido’s knowledge of it lifts it well above cookie-cutter status and turns it into a real and interesting place.

Dragon Precinct doesn’t offer anything new. I can recall two similar fantasy-setting/whodunit novels by Joel Rosenberg: D’Shai (1991) and Hour of the Octopus (1994). Even though those two had a more original setting, it still wasn’t as ‘real’ as Cliff’s End. What Dragon Precinct does offer is a pleasant way to spend a few hours with characters that come to life in a world you can easily lose yourself in. Tolkein it isn’t, but it was a lot of fun, and, except for some slight profanity (a few F- and S- words), suitable for teen-aged fantasy fans.

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