Demons of the Hunter – Stephen Allan

*I received a free ARC of this book.  The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb:  How far would you go to avenge your mother’s death?

For six long years, Eric has done everything he could to learn his mother’s and sister’s killer. He slaughtered hundreds of dragons. He suffered gruesome injuries, shattered dreams, and a broken heart.

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Finally, after his last victory, he has his answer.

Ragnor.

The magi warn Eric that the task of defeating the second legendary dragon pales in comparison to conquering the first legendary dragon, Indica. The Dragon Hunter Guild’s master, Artemia, cautions him that a mind controlled by rage will only weaken his skills. His mentor, Abe, worries that Eric’s bloodlust blinds him to some dark truths.

But Ragnor consumes Eric’s mind. He will not let anything stop him. He would watch everything burn to the ground in the name of vengeance.

He knows he will get his chance. But in doing so, he may very well sacrifice everything—including his friends, his world, and himself.

This is the second book in a series, and doesn’t really stand alone.  Book 1, Shadows of the Empire, sets up the plot and character arcs, and this installment picks up right where the first left off.

The narrative and theme is structured in threes.  There are three legendary dragons to vanquish (in theory, one per novel, but I have suspicions…); three power-hungry leaders out for themselves and ready to watch the world burn; three young ‘Chosen Ones’, each subjugated to a different leader.

There is less action here than previously: the narrative is slower in pace and heavier in exposition (less showing, more telling).  That is due to the primary focus of this book not really being the slaying of Ragnor, but the internal conflicts of our young characters as they continue on their developmental journeys.

 

Each of the youths is tied to a leader corrupted by greed for personal power:  Eric follows Artemia, head of the Dragon Hunters Guild, who is obsessed with gaining dragon magic so that she can take over and rule the world; Zelda is swept along with Kara, who has seen too much and wants to watch the empire burn and to lead the mages in ruling the world; Tyus is in the shadow of his father, the Emperor, who wants rid of anything more powerful than himself (everything!) that might thereby threaten his rule, and is willing to do whatever it takes to wipe out any opposition.

In contrast, the three youngsters have differing goals.  Whilst Zelda and Tyus are both mainly motivated by their desires to broker peace between the mages and the Empire, Eric is single-mindedly focused on his quest for vengeance for his family.  This actually makes him a terribly frustrating character to read in this installment, as we see right at the very beginning that the peace he seeks for their souls has already been achieved, so his continuation blindly against all fact, reason, logic makes you want to give his head a wobble!

This is consistent with the main theme however, directly explained by Abe in the narrative, of greed.  Greed for power, greed for vengeance, greed for security; all blinding individuals to the bigger picture as they pursue their own ends.  It has become clear that destroying the dragons is destabilising the natural world of Hydor, but our ‘heroes’ plough on regardless.  Likewise, at this point the war between the Empire and mages seems inevitable and any efforts otherwise, futile.

With all of the characters either sadly ineffective or wantonly selfish, this was more of a dispiriting read than the previous book.  The wise characters (Abe and Gaius) take a step back and let hotter heads rule, removing the hope for a moderate solution to the many problems ahead.

With all of that said, this is the middle section of a wider story arc, and my personal experiences of epic fantasy suggest that these mid-points often provide the calm before the storm: having set the scene, there is now a slow build towards the dramatic climax.  Likewise the main characters mid-arc have lost their naivety and innocence, but not yet gained the knowledge and experience they need to develop.

I will be interested to see what comes in Book 3, and whether my suspicions about the Ragnor ‘discrepancies’ are accurate…!

“Hah!  A dagger against a dragon like I.  When will you learn, Eric the Dragon Hunter?  When will you learn that your vengeance will lead you nowhere?  When will you learn that what you fight for is shallow and without reward?  When will you learn that you can never fulfill your mission?”

– Ragnor in Eric’s dream, Stephen Allan, Demons of the Hunter

You can find Stephen Allan’s books and blog at his website here, or follow him on Facebook.

For my review of Book 1 in this series, Shadows of the Empire, check here.

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