Tor, August 2003, 27.95, 640 pp.
Desiring to increase their land holdings, the old Country Lords and the colonists sailed to the New World making a place or themselves in the almost deserted continent. However, when the Fire Plague broke out, the Old World lords fled back home taking with them their magic and leaving behind many of the colonists. They settled into lands of the East never realizing that in the west were the Royal Beasts, thinking sentient beings that did not want humans encroaching on their lands
The wolves raised the human child Firekeeper, speaking to her and treating her as one of the pack. Humans who ventured into the Royal Beast territory discovered her. She was taken to the royal court and Firekeeper became involved in the royal intrigues of the king of Hawk Haven. When a group of men travel to the lands of the Royal Beasts, the sentient beings debate whether to declare a war on humanity, a guerrilla style action they have every chance of winning. Firekeeper begs the king to bring his citizens back and to prevent others from going and he agrees if Firekeeper undertakes a mission for him.
Melina Sheild, exiled from Hawks Haven for her treachery and treason has married the Healed One, the hereditary monarch of New Kelvin. The Kelvinese are drawn to magic and want to find a way to bring it back into their world. Melina, a powerful sorceress in her own right, wants to find that magic and free it, believing she would become the powerful ruler of a new empire if she succeeded in her evil quest. Firekeeper has already fought Melina once and she fears that she and her specially chosen companions will have to do battle with her once again if they don't want evil let loose in the New World.
The world Jane Lindskold has created is very similar to medieval Europe but the Church is not in a position of power. There is a vassal system in effect where lords are vassals of the king and commoners are free men tied to their estates. The guilds are powerful and it seems like more and more younger sons, having no land to inherit, will go into trade. This is a world in flux and nobody except the author knows how it will evolve.
FireKeeper, although human in form, thinks of herself as a wolf and her first loyalty is to them and her human friends' respect her for her stand even if they don't understand it. Some of the best scenes in THE DRAGON OF DESPAIR involve Fire Keeper talking strategy with the wolves who show more mercy than their human counterparts.
Every fantasy novel needs a villain and Melina Shield is the perfect one. She abandoned her daughter who was held hostage for her good behavior and the little girl was tortured as a result. She also tried to undermine her country and turned her back on her remaining children. Her one love is power and she doesn't care who gets hurt in her quest to attain it. There are several story line threads left dangling so there is at least one more book in this enthralling sword and sorcery epic. Although this exciting epic fantasy novel is part of a series, it is also a stand alone novel that will have readers turning the pages to see what happens next.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner