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Bitterwood by James Maxey
Review by Paul Haggerty
Solaris Mass Market  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781844164875
Date: 26 June 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Bant Bitterwood was a teenage boy, in love with a teenage girl, hoping that things will all work out and that they'd find true happiness. But this is a world of dragons and magic and all manner of strange beasts and occurrences. But it's not your typical fantasy world. The hints are all there that things are not what they seem to be, but if they're not, then what are they? Bant's life is ripped apart and he spends the next two decades of his life making life miserable for the dragon overlords that now rule the world. Until he kills the king's son ... and now the dragon king has lost all patients with the vermin known as humanity.

Bitterwood is a ghost amongst the dragons. He's the bogyman that dragon mothers tell their children about to make them behave. Dragon soldiers killed his family and destroyed his village. They took from him everything he had, and he intends to return the favor. But no human goes up against a dragon without a few aces tucked up his sleeve and, over the course of years, Bitterwood has stuffed several decks worth of tricks up there.

But Bitterwood is about more than just one man's quest for revenge. Because while some dragons are bad, others are worse, and a few are actually rather decent once you get to know them. Jandra was apprentice to the great dragon wizard Vendevorex. Although she's human, her mentor has never held that against her (other dragons have their own opinions, of course). But on the day that King Albekizan's two sons are required to compete for supremacy (for only one can hope to ever defeat their father and succeed him), Bodiel, the favored son, is slain by Bitterwood during the competition.

Enraged by this act, the king orders the death of every human within his kingdom which, according to official propaganda, is the entire world. But Vedevorex opposes the king (Jendra might have something to do with his opinions) and is declared traitor. Now the world of dragons begins to splinter. Those that follow the king, those that oppose him since humans do all the dirty work that dragons don't want to do, and those that really just don't care. But even in his insanity, the king realizes that humans are far too prolific. They've been under the dragon's thumb for so long only because they can't be bothered to band together when they personally, are not at risk. But if it becomes known that all humanity is under the decree of death, that just might give them the wherewithal to actually fight back. And so the king, with the help of the most psychotic character I've seen in a good long time, devise a cunning trap. It's a trap so comfortable, that humans will come running to get themselves killed. And while Bitterwood doesn't care that much about his fellow man, being rather consumed by his whole "kill all the dragons" personal mission, this goes just a little too far even for him. The ghost is going to need to change his strategy a bit, not that the dragons will like the new one any better than the old.

There are clues scattered throughout the beginning of the book, and practically handed to the reader later on, that the world is not what it appears to be. But the secret isn't really important over all, it just adds to the richness of the setting. While the setting and plot entertain, it's ultimately the characters and their interactions that matter the most. This is no quest novel where the various personae are brought together to find that they're more than the sum of the their parts. Half the characters hate the other half and would like no more than to see them dead as soon as possible. There are heroes and villains on both sides of the conflicts, and plenty are scheming for what will profit them the most. Pretty much like real life, only with dragons. If you squint, it's easy to get confused.

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