Friday, 1 February 2013

The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara

My impressions of The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara.

The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara- 4 stars

This was a ride to a faerie land that I’ve never visited before. There’s superb description that gave me a vivid picture, lots of action, and a fair bit of guessing in terms of what the tasks set for Ben Harper were all about. I’d love to meet the King and Queen of Faerie, though not if Titania is in one of her bad moods. There’s humour in The Dragon Ring that softens some of the darker aspects of the novel; music for the expert and those like me who just like to listen; and a great blend of language - modern and ancient - as the protagonists travel back though time. My favourite character of all has to be Raven, a great friend to help you through a bad day! If you're looking for a time-travel novel to lands of old, manipulated by good and less-good faeries, then you'll love The Dragon Ring.

Excerpt from The Dragon Ring

Kingdom of Wessex, Yule, 876 AD
Wikimedia Commons

     They rode out of Faerie through a riot of bluebells and hawthorn blossom that gradually gave way to an autumnal shower of golden leaves and a sky loud with migrating geese. Finally with some meandering they emerged on a hilltop at the edge of a frozen winter woodland stitched with barren trees, piled and layered and silent with snow. Nothing but foraging animals and a pair of red-eyed wolves would ever realize that their hoof prints had come out of nowhere.
     Where the hill broke to a shallow cliff, the wood thinned and broadened out under layers of leaden sky into the tree-studded down lands of ninth century Wiltshire, at least Ben thought it was Wiltshire, where a light snow was falling. There they halted, surveying the land spread out below.
     “Wow!" His voice shook with the sudden cold and the plain wonder of what he had done, and where he was. “Just, wow!”
     “Well done, sir,” Raven said, drawing up beside him. “I’ve never come through the gates quite like that before.”
     “You want to lead?”
     They were a thousand years—a thousand years!—in the past, and he, Ben Harper, had brought them here! He couldn’t stop grinning. They were also, Ben guessed, another frozen hour’s ride from their goal—plenty of time to arrive as weary travelers in some plausible way at the fortified house or whatever it was. No, not a house exactly. A hunting lodge, or what his pioneer forbears might have called a fort. He had a sense of wooden palisades, but nothing more detailed. He only knew that somewhere down there in the densely wooded valley of the Avon, one fragment of the dragon ring had landed.
     Clad now in the tunics and gartered hose of royal servants, armed for the road, both Ben and Raven were bundled in double layers of furs, woolen cloaks, hoods, and scarves appropriate to the age and the weather. Even their sturdy ponies had grown a shaggy winter coat, and their breath steamed under coarse blankets.
     Ben puffed frosty breath and settled the reins in his gloved hands.
     “Cold?” the raven boy asked.
     “Kind of warm, actually,” said Ben, finally noticing the costume change. The history buff buried under the efficiency expert beamed with pleasure. “But good! Great, even! Good thing I’m not allergic to wool.”
     “You have your skills, I have mine.”
     Ben couldn’t stop staring around, though the pony was getting restive. The countryside lay so still and unreal, if it hadn’t been for the piercing cold, Ben would have thought they stood in a film set, or in a painting. He listened, really listened to the silence, and awe swept over him again. Except for the hiss of their breathing, and his own heartbeat drumming in his ears, nothing stirred, nothing at all. Nowhere in his own time was the mark of the modern world ever utterly absent—this absent. No underlying electronic hum, no distant highway rumble, not in the whole world. And when the winter night fell, it would be utterly dark under the overcast, lacking even starlight or moonshine or urban glow.
     He sat back in the saddle with a dopey grin stretching his face in awe, touched with a little fear.
     Raven noticed, and cuffed his shoulder lightly. “No gawking, sir, if you please,” he said. “Y’know, you might have brought us in a little closer to the mark, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
     “Are you kidding? And miss this?” Ben pounded the saddle horn with sheer glee. “I mean, seriously! Wow!”
     “The ponies are getting cold, sir.”
     “Oh, right.”
     As they turned to pick a path down from the cliff edge, Raven added. “You do have some idea where we are, then?”
     The shout of Ben’s laughter rang in the frosty air. “The Middle Ages?”
     “It is, yes,” said the boy, patiently. “And we are in England. I believe that will be Chippenham.” He waved a hand in the general direction of a smudge away over the horizon, a smoky patch of sky, as always, indicating a living community. “If we can get down from here without breaking our necks, we’ll be somewhere on the Roman road from Bath—the A4, more or less. And it’s just about...” He drew a deep breath as if tasting the air. “Yes, Christmas Eve.”
     Ben just kept grinning, though the snow was swirling and the temperature dropping, and Raven sighed. “Are we there yet?”
     “Soon, yes. Very soon.”
     When they found the road, they urged the ponies to a quicker step. He was humming the ancient tune that had brought them here, which wouldn’t be written for another 600 years, and was for a while completely, thoughtlessly happy.
     The world was not only silent, he noticed, but remarkably empty. They passed now and then the odd steading dug in against the freeze, its presence betrayed only by a thin stream of hearth smoke. Here and there rose other signs of human use, sometimes no more than a herdsman’s bothy, abandoned for the season, squatting like a dirty snowball in a hazel break. But no traffic, no people.
      Away south across the frozen river, clinging to the swell of a hillside, a monastery and its low, stone church huddled with its back to the road, keeping its stinks and its treasures to itself. A single iron bell clanged a few sorry times, breaking the air.
     Raven flinched a bit at the sound. “They’ll be ringing for Tierce,” he muttered. “And what else?” He didn’t look happy.
     “Is it true,” Ben asked, seeing the reaction. “That the fae can’t bear the sound of church bells?”
     “Only when they’re out of tune. Stop talking, will you?” All the wry humor had gone from him like pinching out a candle.
     “What? Why? I’m enjoying—”
     “Hark!” the boy snapped, and Ben stopped, attention focused. They waited, Raven with his head tilted, birdlike, listening.
     “What is it?” Ben whispered at last. “What do you hear?”
     “Breathing, and something else.”
     “I’m breathing.”
     “Please, sir! Dogs, maybe. No, wolves—two or three of them. And the queen’s magic out of tune.”
     “Quite.” The boy shook himself, took a long look back over his shoulder, humming a pattern of five or six notes breaking crisp in the crisp air.
     Ben watched him, noting how the youthful patina fell away as one by one Raven threw off all the useless scarves and pelts, and the glimmer of Faerie intensified around him. And when he turned to look ahead again, three massive black wolves, red-eyed and grinning, blocked their way. His giddy happiness vanished, and his mouth tasted of ashes.
     Sleek and well fed in spite of the bitter season, one paced the width of the road, whining, disturbed by the Romans’ iron road buried long beneath the snow. One hunkered down, as wolves do when stalking prey, one watching behind. The largest sat staring at Ben from the middle of the path, secure and quiet as a watch dog. Ben’s pony backed nervously.
     “Do you know how they used to hunt the wolf, Ben Harper?” said the raven boy, drawing the shining long sword at his side.
     “How’s that?”
     “With traps and snares, and dogs. Today, I am your dog. Draw your sword.”
     Fumbling briefly through the bundling layers, Ben felt the hilt come into his grasp with an ease he did not deserve. It had been too long since he’d last handled a sword, and never one like this. The blade gleamed as he brought it up into position, easier in the hand than he expected. Light spilled off its sharpened edges.
     “I don’t know if I remember how.”
     “I don’t expect you to use it.” The fae’s eyes never left those of the animal before them, though he had marked the other two to right and left. “But I want it in your hand. Your job is to find the artifact. Mine is to keep you alive to do it. So when I say ride, you ride, d’ye understand? You’ll hear things behind you, but do not look back. And whatever else you do, do not leave the iron road.”
     “What about you?” Ben’s voice, unlike his companion’s, trembled more than he liked.
     “I believe,” said Raven, thoughtfully, “I shall sing. Now, ride!”

Link on Amazon
The Dragon Ring

Reality TV host Ben Harper has a problem: he owes the king of Faerie a favour. So now he has to track down the three parts of a Viking arm-ring, and return them to their place in time. This takes him through the wolf-haunted forests of Viking Age Wessex, the rowdy back streets of Shakespeare’s London, and a derelict Georgian country house. Partnered with caustic, shape-changing Raven and guided by a slightly wacky goblin diary, Ben must rediscover his own gifts while facing his doubts and the queen of Faerie’s minions, who will do anything to stop him.

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