Published: September 11th 2014 by Momentum Books
Format: Paperback, 264 pages
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Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.
Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.
The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.
There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison's best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.
Shatterwing is the first novel in the Dragon Wine series, which is set on a world which used to have two moons until one of them (called Ruel) broke and crashed into the planet. Now there is one moon (Belle), and fragments of Ruel span the sky and occasionally fall out of orbit to impact on the planet. Intelligent life has regressed, partly because of the devastating effects of the planet-satellite impact, and partly because the impact seems to have introduced a species into the world: dragons.
Salinda is a prisoner who is forced to tend the vineyards used to make dragon wine. She was trained by her master and knows how to use the ‘essence of dragons’ to make sure the wine is impeccable each year. The arrival of young Brill to the prison sets things in motion for Salinda, who quickly becomes embroiled in the very politics and danger that she’s successfully avoided all her life.
I liked Salinda and Brill (full name Brilliant) – they’re likeable protagonists, although a bit on the stereotypical side. Salinda and Brill are only half the story, however.
My issues with the book have to do with how it is executed, and especially the stylistic decisions that went into it. It is split into two related story-lines, and the blurb does nothing to prepare readers for the shift in protagonists, focus and geography about half way. We leave Salinda and Brill at exciting points of their stories (and I really would have liked to stay with Salinda for longer), and we are introduced to Laidan and Garan.
Laidan travels with her mentor, collecting information about civilisation after the fall of Ruel, while Garan works as a Skywatcher. That’s right, Garan is an astronomer! Getting to see Garan and the rest of the Skywatchers use telescopes to watch the Shatterwing and track any stray bits that might be hurtling towards the earth was really cool.
Both story lines have magic and mystery in common, and it looks like they’ll eventually come together. They also have brutality and sexual violence in common: the prison Salinda and Brill are in is run by The Inspector, who likes to over-power his enemies in every way he can, and Laidan is captured by an equally sadistic man early in her storyline. The rape and sexual brutality made me uncomfortable, and I don’t recommend this book to readers who are sensitive to these themes. Although the sexual violence was in keeping with the dark themes of the novel, I question the author’s decision to make every ‘bad-guy’ in the novel a sexual predator. My opinion is that there are other ways to show how evil a person is.
Another aspect of the execution that troubled me was the writing itself. I noticed it a lot more at the beginning of the book, when I wasn’t invested in the characters or world yet and certain things jumped out at me. The author tends to repeat things for the reader, which has the (unintended) side-effect of making her characters seem slow-witted. For example, Brill is put in chains when he is first brought into the camp, and Salinda keeps telling readers how his chains rattle and his steps are cut short and his mobility is limited, and I think many of those reminders were unnecessary. Sometimes Salinda tells Brill some aspect of making dragon wine only to repeat herself a few sentences later, apparently because Brill wasn’t listening or is incapable of understanding. The repetition is not limited to just Salinda: Brill, Laidan and Garan all unnecessarily re-hash information readers already know.
My favourite aspect of Shatterwing is definitely the world-building. There are dragons and mysterious astronomical events and a hidden race with a showy agenda. I think it’s a very clever blend of fantasy and post-apocalyptic elements, and I am looking forward to unravelling the secrets of this world in the next instalment.
Shatterwing will be enjoyed by readers of dark fantasy and grimdark stories. It’s not a story for readers who dislike violence (especially of a sexual nature), but other readers will find something to like in its spirited characters and intriguing world-building. I liked reading it, and will be delving into the sequel, Skywatcher, soon.