Joanne Bertin’s debut book, The Last Dragonlord, was published back in 1998. Two years later, the sequel, Dragon and Phoenix, was released and those of us who’d read them eagerly awaited more. And waited. And waited. And eventually I gave up hope of ever getting my hands on the third book that was promised when Dragon and Phoenix was released. Imagine my shock and glee this past November when I saw on the coming releases list a little-heralded title by an author many people have forgotten about, but whom I remembered very fondly. Finally, twelve years after I had read the previous book, I could have the next adventure!
Bard’s Oath is the third book in the Dragonlord series, and opens about a year after the end of Dragon and Phoenix. Linden, Maurynna, Shima, Otter, and Raven are planning to meet up at a large horse fair, the first time they’ve all been in one place since their last adventure. But what fun would it be for us readers if something didn’t go horribly wrong? Raven is framed for murder by someone wielding dark magic, and it’s up to his friends to clear his name and catch the true murderer before he’s handed over to the hangman.
A captivating world
Bertin, even after her hiatus, is still a fantastic worldbuilder. The Five Kingdoms are richly detailed with a host of original characters and differing cultural values. The Dragonlords are a small group of were-dragons, and because of their magical abilities (including incredibly long lives), Dragonlords are considered to be a rank above royalty and serve as international arbiters in the Five Kingdoms. After all, who wants to argue with someone who can change into a dragon and eat you if you piss them off? Much of the action in this book takes place in a kingdom called Cassori, which is a hyper-rank-obsessed realm. So you can imagine how handy it is to have a trio of Dragonlords on your side when you’re a common man in legal trouble like Raven. More so than in previous books, Bertin takes some time to fill out the social mores and obligations surrounding the official rank of Bard in the Five Kingdoms, which was nice to see.
Writing is not like riding a bike!
There are some issues with Bard’s Oath that I don’t recall being there in the first two books. At this point in the series, Bertin has a large cast of characters, and there are many points of view. For a book that’s 430 pages long, having eight or more characters who get point of view at least once is overboard (at least for me). As there was in Dragon and Phoenix, there’s a separate storyline in Bard’s Oath that only connects with the main plot fairly late in the book. However, where in Dragon and Phoenix the secondary plot was essentially a separate book that just happened to be bound in between episodes of the main plot, here the secondary plot is not terribly compelling. Its tie-in to the main plot line is fleeting and a thing of convenience, and for that level of convenience I’d say that you could have skipped the entire second plot and been just as content. The first half of both Bertin’s previous books tend to drag a bit as she sets things up in small pieces here and there. Bard’s Oath drags more than that. However, I will say that the second half of the book was tightly paced and well done. I’ll blame the initial clutter of the novel on the fact that it took twelve years to write. There are passages which are nice and fun but don’t really add to the plot. This is something I’d expect out of fan fiction, but when there’s such a gap between books, I can’t entirely fault the original author for doing it.
Why should you read this book?
This is not a good book to pick up on its own. Bertin doesn’t go back and connect the dots or do any explaining for potential newcomers. Why can Linden shape shift into a dragon? What’s a Llysanyin? Without reading the first two books, you will never figure these things out. However, since the first two books are worthwhile reads, this is hardly a chore. For those of us who have read the first two books (albeit a few years ago) Bard’s Oath is a fun return to a well-loved world (at least, I love it well). While it’s not the masterwork I had hoped for after twelve years’ wait, it has certainly whet my appetite for more! Let’s just hope the fourth book doesn’t take another twelve years. But even if it does, I’ll still happily read it.