Series: CALIFORNIA BONES TRILOGY
Plot Type: Dystopian Urban Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4-5; Sensuality—2; Humor—2-3
NOVEL 3: Dragon Coast
Dragon Coast is the sequel to Greg Van Eekhout's California Bones and Pacific Fire, in which Daniel Blackland must pull off the most improbable theft of all.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Dragon Coast on it's Amazon.com page. Just click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
In the climactic finale of Pacific Fire, Daniel and Sam tried to stop Daniel's golem brother, Paul, from activating the Pacific firedrake, a long-extinct dragon that Paul has recreated. While Daniel battled (and killed) Paul, Sam tried to sabotage the firedrake, but instead was absorbed by the fiery dragon, losing his physical body in the process and becoming a sentient spirit inside the firedrake. As Sam describes it, "He'd been destroyed. He'd dissolved away, flesh and blood and sinew and bone, like a seltzer tablet in water. But he wasn't dead. He was in the dragon now….He was no longer a physical being. Yet his back ached…and he still needed to pee…to sleep…to eat."
Dragon Coast begins not long after Sam was lost to the firedrake, and Daniel has a plan to get him back. Eekhout uses the third-person point of view to tell the story, alternating among Sam, Daniel, and Gabriel Argent, the powerful water mage of the Southern Kingdom, who wants to trap and control the firedrake for his own purposes. Although Gabriel promises to assist Daniel with his attempt to rescue Sam, he plans to double cross Daniel and take the firedrake for his own.
The plot, then, has three primary story lines—one for each main character—that merge in the big showdown scene that ends the trilogy. Here are brief summaries of those story lines:
Although the scenes involving Gabriel's underhanded plans and Sam's naive explorations are interesting, they pale in comparison to Daniel's revelations about his brother's life. Daniel only met his golem sibling once—just before he killed Paul—so he has no idea what kind of person Paul was. When Daniel and Moth arrive in the Northern Kingdom, Daniel is in for some major shocks because Paul was a much more complex person than Daniel ever imagined. Daniel and Moth delve into Paul's life, peeling back one layer after another so that Daniel can absorb enough of Paul's identity to fool all of the people who have known Paul throughout his life. But it isn't as easy as Daniel hoped it would be.
Adding to the difficulty of Daniel's identity deception is the fact that he finally comes face to face with his mother, Messalina Siglio, the woman who left him behind so many years ago in the hands of his cruel and evil Uncle Otis. The dramatic mother-son confrontation is a sad and bitter scene as Messalina tries to explain her actions while Daniel refuses to accept—or even listen to—her desperate rationalizing.
A subplot of Daniel's story involves his ongoing relationship with Cassandra. Daniel knows that Cassandra "was practical. But she wasn't cold." At one point, when he chides her for killing someone, she hits right back at him: "You always come to me, not asking, but hoping—knowing—I'll give you the things you're afraid to ask for." In other words, she is pointing out that frequently Daniel's inner pragmatism does not translate into actual action—that he depends on her to do his dirty work. She doesn't mind, but she doesn't want him pretending that she comes up with the actions on her own. It's a complicated relationship, to say the least.
I don't want to provide any more plot details because that would spoil your reading of the novel. I'll just say that this is a satisfying conclusion to a terrific trilogy. All of the ongoing conflicts are resolved, but new ones emerge towards the end of the book, so I'm guessing that Eekhout is leaving the door open for a possible sequel. I highly recommend this trilogy to sci fi/fantasy fans who are looking for nonstop action, magical adventures, noir humor, sympathetic characters, and a fresh and inventive mythology.
Just one nitpick: On p. 176 of the hardcover book, someone missed a crucial word error in a sentence that begins like this: “Leaving the stronghold of the Southern Hierarch….” No, no, no! Not the SOUTHERN Hierarch. The entire false identity caper is set in the NORTHERN Hierarch. The moral: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a copy proofer in possession of spellcheck tends to overlook the most obvious word-use errors.
The overriding theme relates to our desperate need for rapidly disappearing fossil-based, non-renewable natural resources. The need that this alternate California has for fossil magic is a metaphor for real California's need for fossil fuels.
Working for the Hierarch are other osteomancers with various specialties, for example William Mulholland, who is the Water Mage and handles the city's water and power systems. Mulholland can cause flooding, droughts, and power outages that can be used to remind the populace that the Hierarch controls their lives completely. This alternate Los Angeles is modeled after Venice, Italy, having few roads but being crisscrossed by a complex canal system controlled by the Hierarch through Mulholland. People don't travel in cars; they use small boats, pontoon vans, water taxis, and gondola buses.
I love the way that magic replaces technology in this world. For example, instead of relying on facial recognition software, Gabriel doses a group of potential witnesses with a potion that gives them the ability to draw detailed portraits of everyone with whom they came in contact during a given time period. Then, Gabriel takes the stack of drawings to a room full of memoraticians, who are fed memory-enhancement magic that allows them to page through the drawings and match them immediately to a decades-old photograph buried deep in the Hierarch's files. Great image!
Eekhout adds noir humor to the story with brushstrokes of ironic fancy. For example, in this world the famous cartoonist, Disney, is an osteomancer who developed "a potent distillation of osteomantic intoxicant, and once they started misting it into movie theaters, they acquired an audience of happily addicted consumers who kept coming back for more." Also brimming with dark, sometimes macabre, humor are Eekhout's colorful metaphors: A row of just-hanged cadavers are hoisted up and "hung, upside-down from the ankles, like holiday ornaments." A brutish policeman on Rodeo Drive "stood out among the posh like ketchup on a pearl necklace." A snooty receptionist's nose is "sharp enough to use as a letter opener."
Chapter one begins ten years later. The late Hierarch's realm of Southern California has been divided amongst the strongest and the greediest, all of whom continue to vie for more and more power. One of the most greedy is Otis Roth, Daniel's uncle, and he has an extraordinary plan. Otis has collected all of the pieces and parts he needs to construct a massive Pacific firedrake (a long-extinct dragon) in an abandoned factory on Catalina Island. He wants to bring the firedrake to life, but he can't do it alone. Otis makes a pact with Gabriel Argent, a powerful water mage, and Sister Tooth, a deadly bone sorcerer, to work together to reconstruct and activate the firedrake. Gabriel can provide the electricity, and Sister Tooth can provide the bone magic. Unfortunately, Otis needs someone to become the vital spirit within the dragon—the one who brings it to roaring, fiery life—and that person is the Hierarch's golem. Otis and his allies refer to Sam as "the Treasure" because he was constructed from all of the osteomantic powers contained within the all-powerful Hierarch. Sam has the innate ability to be even more powerful than the Hierarch, but as yet he has not been able to draw out much of his magic. As Sam explains to one of the Emmas, "I'm a big fizzy bottle of pop, but shake me up and I pour out flat." That situation will change as the story progresses. Sam's life has been a lonely one, with Daniel as the single permanent figure in his life on the run. Now in his late teens, Sam has never attended school, never had a girlfriend, never had any friends at all. He and Daniel have only each other, and Sam is beginning to want more.
Immediately, life for Daniel and Sam gets even more dangerous as the attacks on their lives multiply. Even birds in the sky are being used by the rogue osteomancers to search for them. When Daniel is nearly killed by a poisoned spear in one of the attacks, Sam takes him to the Emmas, a group of golem women who have been constructed from the cells of Emmaline (Emma) Walker, the osteomancer who developed the art of golem-making and who was killed at the climax of California Bones. (Note: Pay particular attention to a fever dream Daniel has while recovering from the poison.) All of the Emmas look alike, but they have varying skills. The Emmas run a secret safe-house network that is dedicated to helping as many other golems as they can. Sam makes friends with an Emma just a year or two older than himself who calls herself Em and is a skilled and experienced warrior. When the Emma matriarchs refuse to help them, Sam and Em take off on their own to destroy the firedrake and save the world. Here, Em explains to Sam why they can't let Otis get control of the firedrake: "He found the bones of some bird that could turn anyone into a programmable zombie, and he used them on street kids. Voila, he had his wraiths, a collection of little operatives even better than golems. They're his cannon fodder, his suicide vests, whatever he needs. That's the kind of man Otis is. And that's why we don't want him to have a firedrake."
The plot mostly follows Sam and Em, with a few interruptions to check in with the villains and to keep tabs on Daniel, who soon joins the action along with some of his friends from book 1. Sam has been with Daniel so long that he knows how to contact Daniel's former associates, several of whom agree to help him out in one way or another. The story moves along at a breakneck pace, but there is time for some serious, and sometimes humorous, moments that chronicle the developing friendship between Sam and Em and some introspective scenes in which Sam muses on his father-son relationship with Daniel—mirrored by scenes in which Daniel does the same.
The only part of the story that doesn't measure up is the part that features Carson, a handsome celebrity who plays a key role in providing Sam and Emma with transportation to Catalina Island. Carson is nothing more than a deus ex machina who pops up out of nowhere, stays just long enough to fulfill his single purpose, and is never seen again.
This is another terrific book, with a wildly entertaining plot, poignant characters, and a slam-bang climax. Sam and Emma are wonderfully well-developed lead characters. I particularly liked Emma's fierce independence and easy self-confidence. When Sam needs her to hurl some magical weapons, he asks her "How's your throwing arm?" She replies, "I throw like a girl...by which I mean with strength and accuracy." Sam is also a fully realized character, one who has had no control over his own life until now and is determined to make the most of his new freedom and power. The final scenes are fraught with emotion as Daniel has to confront the brutal realities of his past and Sam must decide the best use of his powers. Both are forced to make difficult, soul-wrenching decisions. Pacific Fire has one of the most powerful and enthralling endings that I've read in a long time. But…there are still a few loose ends to be picked up in Dragon Coast, which is due in September. I can't wait! Click HERE to read an excerpt from Pacific Fire.