Review: Shadow Riders by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes

Storm Riders by Mararet Weis and Robert Krammes | Tor, 2013

Storm Riders is the second novel in the Dragon Brigade series by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes. It picks up right after the end of 2012’s Shadow Raiders and carries the plot forward. Much like the previous novel Storm Riders is a novel that I enjoyed but which I can’t seem to pinpoint why. Set in a world where the continents float on the mystical Breath of God, Storm Riders sees two nations with a bitter enmity towards one another struggling to come to terms with strange and powerful bat-riding raiders. Tossed into the mix of political intrigue and outright action is the fact that said bat-riders are wielding a form of magic that is heresy to even think about.

Weis and Krammes have created an interesting world here with a very European vibe to it. The world is complex and engaging from the ancient rivalries to the deep religious history the world of the Dragon Brigade is fleshed out and life-like. Storm Riders delves into the nitty gritty of that world more than ever. Where Shadow Raiders only introduced two dragons Storm Riders delves deeper into the history and lore of the world’s dragons. In the novel Father Jacob visits the Dragon Duchies while Stefano and the Cadre deal and befriend several wild dragons each element of story illuminated the fractured nature of dragon society. Storm Riders definitely has more dragons than Shadow Raiders addressing one my few complaints about the first novel. Weis and Krammes have created a fascinating culture for dragon here and one that we only get a brief glimpse at.

Storm Riders is a tautly paced novel despite its apparent length with each of its multiple points of view offering a brisk pace and tons of action. While our nominal protagonists are the Cadre of the Lost lead by the Dragon Brigade’s former commander Stefano de Guicen I definitely found myself looking most forward to the chapters featuring Father Jacob Northrup and Sir Anders. Father Jacob, an agent of the Arcanum (the order of the church that teaches mages), is an opinionated pugilist priest willing to speak his mind even when those words don’t toe the party line and barrel headlong into what the church deems heresy. With the loss of Brother Barnaby in the previous novel Weis and Krammes do an excellent job of highlighting the bond between Father Jacob and his church-appointed protector (and friend) Sir Anders.

Fascinating characters, a complex plot, explosive action, Storm Riders improves on the already excellent Shadow Raiders. That being said I think that the diverse number of viewpoints actually hurts the novel. Storm Riders walks a fine line between epic fantasy and swashbuckling action and I think that a tighter focus on some of the characters would result in a stronger connection to the novel. In particularly I found myself disengaged with the chapters from the Countess de Marjolaine’s perspective. While it seems clear that Weis and Krammes are building up to something with the Countess it doesn’t play out in Storm Riders and her chapters felt more like speed bumps rather than anything else.

The Dragon Brigade seems to be going a bit overlooked as a series so far. Storm Riders is a strong novel that improves on many of the minor flaws seen in Shadow Raiders. This is intelligently plotted, exciting fantasy that, while more traditional than most of the market, never feels tired or boring. If you’re looking for a fantasy with dragons, airships, and lots of action and enjoy worlds that are excellently and impeccably crafted you should definitely be giving the The Dragon Brigade a shot. I should warn you that Storm Riders does end on a cliffhanger (worse than the cliffhanger at the end of Shadow Raiders) that left me jazzed to find out what happens in the next volume

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