Disclaimer: This review is based on an ARC copy provided by the author.
Aramon, or Aram as he is more usually called, is not a typical fantasy hero. He is withdrawn, often misunderstood or belittled by the people of his home village. He is neither particularly strong, quick, or forthright. What he does have is an instinctive ability and fascination with knots, something that becomes key to his future. I particularly liked the way the use of knots is laid in from the very first chapter and is gradually built upon, being integral to not only the way magic can be used but also the way Aram perceives the world around him.
Although he is not the only POV character, we spend the most time with Aram and come to know him the best. It would be fair to say that he exhibits many behaviors commonly associated with being on the autistic spectrum. This is handled with great sensitivity and we empathize with him a lot, whether it be his frequent difficulty with interpreting other characters’ words & actions or the constant self-doubt which has been re-enforced by his treatment at the hands of many of those other characters. His evident joy when he makes friends with Markus and begins to feel he can share some of the parts of himself he has kept hidden is a highlight of the opening few chapters.
Markus is the next most frequently used point of view, and he fits the more traditional archetype. He has his own mistreatments to move beyond which I think feeds into his strong need to defend others. When everything else is taken from him, his focus on protecting Aram leads to several life-changing decisions. Perhaps the best line between the two of them comes towards the end when Markus reveals how much he values his relationship with Aram.
Speaking of relationships, one thing I liked best was the depiction of the bonds that develop between various characters and their dragons. The way they almost intermingle, until they can sense each other's moods and intentions, is very well portrayed.
In terms of content, Dragon Mage straddles a fine line. It isn’t afraid to show the horrors of battle or the tortures inflicted by the antagonistic forces, but it never goes into full grim-dark territory and always retains a strong sense of hope.
For such a long book, close to 1000 pages, the novel rarely feels that length. It moves at a good pace, and even with its size, there is still a feeling that there is a lot more to discover about this universe. Although it is currently being marketed as a stand-alone story, I would not be surprised if the author returns to this world at some stage. I think that is possibly the highest compliment I can give this book, that readers will want to remain in this world, long after the novel is done.
5 out of 5 knotted strands.