Lord and Lady, not another heroic quest.
I’m afraid so. Dragon’s been told to keep a special eye on them. Those types always get into brawls.
Or worse. I remember that group that wiped out the Boar’s Head Inn.
I don’t know that inn.
You wouldn’t, boy. Even if someone like you would be caught dead in a place like that, it got burned to the ground before you were born.
-Assorted officers of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard
I’ve reviewed books by Keith R. A. DeCandido before. I’ve commented on how he manages to nail down the characters of every licensed property he’s been involved with, going back from the Marvel Comics novels, to Star Trek, to Farscape. He’s become known for his IKS Gowron books of late, where Klingons seek out new life, new civilizations, and conquer them. However, all of his books to date have been in somebody else’s playground. Until now.
Dragon Precinct is a fantasy novel; however, it’s not about warriors, wizards, and priests going on a quest. Well, actually, it is about warriors, wizards, and priests going on a quest-but those characters aren’t the protagonists here: they’re the victims of murder. The world-famous Gan Brightblade and his allies are in the city-state of Cliff’s End, at the behest of the priest Brother Genero; Genero has had a vision of a great evil returning in the form of the wizard Chalmraik the Foul. Never mind the fact that the wizard was killed ten years ago. Unfortunately for those heroes, someone-or something-has decided to have at these heroes before they get too far.
Enter the Cliff’s End Castle Guard. Lieutenant Danthres Tresyllione and Lieutenant Torin ban Wyvald investigate a death in the Dragon Precinct-specifically, the death of Gan Brightblade. Unfortunately, there isn’t much for them to find; there are apparently no clues, physical or magical, no apparent motive, and the crew Gan traveled with are unwilling to tell the truth about why they are in town. Then, of course, there’s also the little detail that the rulers of Cliff’s End, Lord Albin and Lady Meerka, want this case wrapped fast (Gan was an old friend), before it gets out of hand-and their chamberlain, Sir Rommett, isn’t exactly the most helpful of people to the Guard. Which makes life especially unpleasant when one of Gan’s companions ends up dead in the same inn….
DeCandido’s put together a pretty good setting; Cliff’s End is a smorgasbord of the people populating the land of Flingaria; the land itself has gone through some rough times, and the heroism of Gan and his crew was one of the main reasons why it has entered a peaceful period. Magic is regulated by the Brotherhood of Wizards, in part because of past abuses by wizards such as Chalmraik. Many elves see humans as lower life-forms. There are also dwarves and halflings in Flingaria (and I believe trolls are mentioned somewhere as well). The story itself, however, is contained within Cliff’s End, and there’s enough here to tell a great many stories; from the upper-class areas of Unicorn Precinct, the docks of Mermaid, the seedy Goblin, and Dragon-which seems to hold the middle-class. Since there’s no map of the city, one could easily guess that there may be more regions in the city as well.
Dragon Precinct has a number of minor subplots rolling along too; Danthres and Torin aren’t the only detectives in the city, and we get a look at some of their workload as well. But the bulk of the story follows Danthres and Torin in their investigation (with some aid from the M. E. Boneen; Boneen’s a Magical Examiner on loan from the Brotherhood). Both characters have their separate backstory (Danthres’s is a bit more heavily explored here), which affects their actions during portions of the investigation. They’re hampered by the fact that there isn’t a lot to go on-at least at first.
There aren’t a lot of books in fantasy that deal with general crime in a city. The only ones that come to mind immediately are the Discworld City Watch books, which tend to be somewhat less than serious in tone; a pair of Joel Rosenberg books which wasn’t so much city crimes being solved; and I think one of Saberhagen’s Lost Swords books had a detective tone in it. None of them quite hit the right flavor for a police drama in a fantasy setting, though-and that’s what Dragon Precinct has accomplished. It’s got a good core of characters, a diverse city setting, and plenty of room to write more stories-not to mention a potential loose end that’s a little beyond a city guard to handle (it’d be a neat thing to follow up in passing in future stories though). I believe I’d enjoy reading more stories set in Cliff’s End.