Well, this is a whole heap of rip-roaring fun and no mistake. It's not profound, the characters are all selfish and devious bastards, the world-building is a bit flat and the writing is capable if not particularly memorable, but - what a cracking story. Of course, it's the dragons who make it. I've heard it said that dragons are a bit out of favour these days, and publishers are avoiding them. Maybe so, but I for one just love them, and these dragons are terrific - big, powerful monsters, just like they should be, and totally mean-spirited. And they feel very alien, nothing like the loveable pals from Pern, or even the riddle-swapping Smaug. Brilliant.
The plot revolves largely around the political machinations of the various dragon-owning families, and it's at a level which makes Machiavelli look like a two year old. There are lies and subterfuge and double-dealing, all layered up to create an incredible writhing snake-pit of deception. I kept up with it pretty well until about three quarters of the way through, when it got to the point of (for all I know) double double double dealing, and I kind of lost the thread altogether. So at the end, I'm not completely sure who was really in league with whom, and who was just pretending to be. It was complicated. But it really didn't matter, because all the twists and turns raced by so fast it was all a blur anyway. Talk about breathtaking.
The characters never really came alive for me. They all seemed just a little too - well, too much. Too clever, too smug, too beautiful, too sexed up, too devious, too self-centred. There were just a few moments where something deeper shone through - Kemir deciding not to kill Semian, for instance, but to inflict a much slower and more painful punishment on him, in pure revenge, and Jaslyn's grief for her dragon. But mostly the characters seemed distant, too unemotional and too wrapped up in their own cleverness to be truly three dimensional. A word of warning, however: don't get too attached to any particular character, as the author is shockingly ruthless about disposing of them without a moment's notice.
The real stars here are the dragons, and what stars they are. These beasts are not cute or cuddly, but they are intelligent, and once they start to break free from human control they make formidable opponents. While the political complications got a bit dull towards the end, every dragon chapter was a joy, even if edged with a tinge of fear. You just never quite knew when they were going to eat one of the named characters. Because that's what these dragons do. Very much looking forward to seeing where things go from here. This is a book with some flaws, but it was such fun to read it merits four stars.