Jeremy's Reviews > The Dragon and the Crow

The Dragon and the Crow by T.B. McKenzie
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's review
Feb 03, 2012

really liked it
Read in December, 2011

As with an increasing number of modern writers, T.B. McKenzie chronicled the development of his debut novel online, chiefly via his professional blog: Magickless. I followed the journey with a deep fascination, from the text’s beginnings as a handwritten manuscript, through the tribulations of drafting and re-drafting (and all of that glorious artistic self-doubt), its gradual percolation through an editor, to the final polishing, printing and launch. Vicariously, I experienced an author’s joys and, what Graham Greene once described as a writer’s own “curious forms of hell”.

Filled with anticipation, when I finally came to read it, two things converged: ten days of holiday, and an awful cold – a genuine mucus fest, all chest, head and throat. I came to read The Dragon and the Crow like a dying soldier, in a blood haze, reaches out to a childhood friend. Melodramatic I know, but it’s how I felt. And please understand: heroic fantasy was my genre of choice as a child – from Dragonlance to LotR, Le Guin to C.S. Lewis.

The Dragon and the Crow provided me with comfort and a means to escape. It also created something new – while I wallowed in my nostalgia, McKenzie also challenged me with originality and depth of thought. The author’s dedication alone hints at the emotion that was invested in its creation.

Brin the hero is an everyman. He is instantly relatable. In a world crackling with ‘magick’, he is impotent, and clearly a misfit. It is as though we ourselves are transported into the kingdom of Arkadia, just as we are, and then surrounded by the capable, the providential. Harry Potter, like Christ, at least had the knowledge (however much he doubted it) that he was prophesied. Brin is powerless and seems destined for obscurity. While this premise is not in itself startlingly original, and we can identify many archetypes in McKenzie’s characters, the joy is in the telling. The premise is also strengthened by the author’s discipline in resisting cliché – resisting the obvious and inevitable transformation of Brin.

The protagonist provides a somewhat neutral base around which the author creates a cleverly drawn cast of characters – from Brin’s hurtful peers to a father loaded with expectation and conditional love. The main villains and allies are never predictable in their nature. Their motives and powers continue to be intriguing throughout the novel. The Hen, The Fox, The Witch – all hint at their true personalities, but never confirm, nor conform. There is much to admire and enjoy about the subtleties that McKenzie has created here.

While the plot is certainly well conceived and grand in scale, it seems to suffer from post-climactic moments where the tension is defused. In these instances, the momentum of the story is interrupted and almost ‘reset’. It seems that when danger is narrowly avoided, or when a villain comes close to destruction, the subsequent scene is disconnected from the grander scheme, and the tension has to build again from a place too far removed.

The world of Arkadia is rich with nuance and suggestion – there is never any question that a larger world exists beyond that of the main characters and plots. McKenzie integrates all of the wonderful details that a heroic fantasy devotee would consider mandatory. Arkadia is not a painted backdrop.

Brin’s lack of magick in a world so infused with it does strain credibility at times. With so many other references to the importance of magick and the family heritage (characters' surnames directly relate to their type of practised magick, e.g. “Mender”), how could Brin conceal his impotence where the slightest tell would have been so obvious? However, I suspect most readers would not find it difficult to suspend disbelief, as the portrayal of Brin almost demands empathy.

McKenzie’s moments of genius are in his descriptions of the telepathy between characters and creatures – and his characters’ Spells of Connection and Mindsongs are really spiritual links between himself and his readers. The Fox’s unreliable narration that describes his communications with a deep-sea whale is truly memorable – as they “think songs like the epic poems of myth”.

I arose from my sick-bed greatly restored. While The Dragon and the Crow included moments of inertia, overwhelmingly it satisfies, but more importantly, entrances. It is the kind of novel that invites multiple readings – with so many references to a world as yet unexplored.

Am I looking forward to the remaining two books in the trilogy?

*Licks lips*
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