The Dragon's Touchstone by Irene Radford
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
War dominates Coronnan, trampling the common folk under the feet of its lords, and fueled by the service of Battlemages. Racked by grief and guilt after he is forced to slay a former student in combat, Battlemage Nimbulan sets out to find a better way (with middling success until it drops into his lap - more on that later). The secondary protagonist, Myrilandel, is a witchwoman with amnesia, tossed into events by her need to heal and a mysterious compulsion.
This book is dated in many of the ways you would expect, and it hasn't aged well. There's a lot of reliance on fate, prophecy and - as just mentioned - inexplicable forces nudging the characters along. Myrilandel in particular doesn't seem to have much agency or motivation of her own; she just obeys the plot machine, thinly disguised as voices in her head. When she finally discovers the reason she was being compelled, it solves much of the story's problems, but it feels too convenient.
There follows, in the last pages of the book, a fast succession of revelations that feel as if they came out of nowhere. These come across as mysteries I should have been able to solve, but wasn't given enough evidence for. Maybe it wouldn't if I had read the "first" series (this is the beginning of a prequel series), but coming at it as a new reader, I was nonplussed by a lot of it.
There are some enjoyable aspects to this book. The state of the kingdom is nicely drawn, and many of the background events and the motivation of secondary characters feels grounded and realistic. The attitude towards sex, in particular, is refreshing in its pragmatism. In a lot of ways, I liked the movement of secondary characters such as Quinnalt and Kalen better than the main narrative. Apart from the grand forces that give this book its main arc, so much of what shapes the individual scenes is human pettiness and the smallness of fear, greed and jealousy. Those are the most compelling parts of The Dragon's Touchstone.
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