Developing a series is difficult. If you maintain the status quo, audiences will dismiss it as predictable. Over-innovate and they'll claim that you've destroyed all the elements they loved. How ought an author to navigate between this particular rock and hard place? James Maxey offers a good example in Dragonseed, the third installment in the Dragon Age series: Drop a major technological innovation in familiar characters' laps and let them riff off it.
The once-proud dragon kingdom stands perched on the edge of chaos. Its armies were routed while trying to suppress the human uprising at Dragonforge. The heir to its throne has perished by an assassin's blade. And the rebels now possess a weapon long thought lost -- gunpowder. With petty lords peeling their various fiefdoms from the kingdom, the situation looks dire. But Vulpine, a cunning sky-dragon warrior, has his own plans to crush the upstarts and return order to the land. This insurgence is nothing a good blockade and outbreak of disease can't solve, and Vulpine intends to instigate both. Only a new threat seems to be emerging, a charismatic healer drawing dragons and humans alike into his fold, one who claims he can heal every infirmity -- and whose largess may hide darker designs.
Dragonseed maintains Maxey's typical mix of SF and fantasy, as well as addressing familiar themes such as naturalism and faith, the limits of political interventionism, and the danger of demagogy. Also, the novel serves up pleasingly complex battles as snarled as a catnip-spiked ball of yarn tossed into a box full of kittens. It's consistently entertaining stuff. Where the book falls short of Dragonforge (the series' apogee so far) is in a tendency to lose itself in exposition. True, much has transpired in the space of two volumes, but the book stays stuck in past events for a good chunk of its beginning. A minor flaw. Still, I doubt anyone will feel disappointed by the time the final climactic confrontation rolls around. Dragonseed grows into something exciting indeed.
(Picture: CC 2007 by Lucy Crosbie)