- Dragon Games
In this second installment of The Books of Umber (the first being Happenstance Found, BCCB 3/09), high-spirited Umber takes his reluctant entourage on a series of adventures to further his quest to see and catalogue the unusual creatures that populate his adopted land. The main journey of the book is to Sarnica, a kingdom ruled by a cruelly violent king and his equally abhorrent son, to see what they call the Dragon Games, but which are really just ritual slayings of maimed dragons. Along the way, though, they have other adventures with creatures thought mythical and discovered to be very real and very dangerous. There are big doings at home in Kurahaven as well: Prince Loden kills both his brothers so that he may be the uncontested heir to the throne, and amnesiac foundling Hap learns a bit more about his origins, specifically that he used to be the simple-minded son and brother of a poor family before he was killed and transformed into a supernaturally powered Meddler. Unfortunately, these plot bits and revelations are clumsily handled, and the appearance and disappearance of people with clues to Hap’s nature and destiny are bluntly inserted without context or follow-up. Character development, which was so strong and compelling in the first book, is utterly abandoned here for the sake of episodic, loosely connected or completely unconnected adventures, and Hap, whose project is to develop and learn to use and control his powers, makes no progress on that front. Catanese’s creative efforts from the first book, however, provide sufficient momentum to carry through here, and the various episodes hold their own interest and originality. Readers who have already become invested in these characters may therefore be satisfied by this return visit to their precarious and fascinating world.