Dragonlance is effectively a dead setting now due to the fact Habro has killed the novel line of the franchise, the setting, and even taken it out of the hands of the original author who briefly revived it as a licensed product. This isn't a terrible thing by itself as it had a good long run but it is disappointing. Why do I bring up Dragonlance for discussing Rex Draconis? Well, purely from my perspective, this feels a bit like the City of Titans to Dragonlance's City of Heroes. Basically, a creator owned work based around the same themes as well as artistic merit of the original. If not a resurrection of Dragonlance, it is certainly something that feels like it and keeps the fire burning.
The premise of the book is introducing the world. It is a planet of minotaurs, elves, dwarves, dragons, and more. The Northern Kingdoms are dominated by the minotaur empire, which is not so much evil as humorless, militarist, and expansionist. The Southern Kingdoms, by contrast, are human-dominated but superstitious as well as corrupt. In-between them is the port city of Aryon. Aryon is neutral and a trade empire that lies squarely nestled between the two powers with profit coming from both. It is more aligned to the humans than the minotaurs but would be the first to fall if war ever happened. It is also the center of the action for this book.
I am hesitant to describe the plot, itself, because there's a lot of revelations and surprises spread throughout what is a fairly compact book. There's a pair of magical conspiracies fighting for supremacy over the world, an elven girl on a vision quest, a group of marooned minotaurs who disrupt the peace by their very presence, and a half-elf knight trying to deal with the fact he's not particularly welcomed by either race. Oh and dragons have returned to the world, threatening everyone on the planet with their power.
Richard A. Knaak's writing is smooth and perfect as befitting a man who has been creating fantasy since the 80s. The characters are archetypes and don't have the depth of a lengthier work, yet, they are still people we can understand and empathize with. This is clearly just the first book in a larger series and I'm interested in seeing where the adventures of specific individuals go. Despite this, it's a stand-alone story as well with the majority of plots wrapped up by the final page. I also like the various organizations introduced like the Knights of the Shield and conspiracies (that I won't spoil any details about).
This book feels like a slightly more adult series than 80s fantasy I'm used to, even if it's far from being grimdark like George R.R. Martin's work or Joe Abercrombie's. It's PG-13 rather than earlier works' PG and benefits for it. There's no clear cut good versus evil, even among those who claim moral righteousness. That makes for a more interesting world than one where the forces of good versus evil were like sports teams. Aryon reminds me a bit of Dragon Age II's Kirkwall, in that it is a shifty Mos Eisley sort of place on one side and a aristocratic center of intrigue on the other.
I liked the subtle handling of racial tensions in a Medieval fantasy setting. The minotaurs are a people who cause disruption simply by their very existence, serving as representatives of their expansionist race even if they're just a bunch of sailors like anyone else. The elves are snooty and self-involved as always while the humans remain a intolerant as well as greedy lot. There's a few new races as well with some interesting spins (like the fact the dwarves are steampunk scientists in this world).
In conclusion, I strongly recommend this book and am hoping for many more in the same world. It will take awhile to make it something that has its own identity but I have high hopes Richard A. Knaak will create something truly spectacular in the coming years.