Book review

Review: The Sleeping Dragon – Jonny Nexus

309 pages| Wild Jester Press| Fantasy/Comedy/Satirical Fantasy

The author of The Sleeping Dragon, Jonny Nexus, provided me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review after seeing my review for The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan.

The digest: The Sleeping Dragon is a much-needed break from usual fantasy fare. It is an uncomplicated, engaging novel which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking for a less strenuous fantasy story. Expect laughs and tears alike.

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“On a fantasy world Tolkienesque to the point of cliché, the five greatest adventurers of the age discover that in five hundred years, the Sleeping Dragon will awake and destroy civilisation.

But prologue aside, this is not their story.

This is a story from a half millennium later, in a world now so utterly transformed by mass-produced magic that it seems heroism itself is rendered obsolete, in which five misfits find themselves tasked with preventing the plague, war, famine, and destruction that the Sleeping Dragon will bring forth.

From the towering spires of Empire City to the wild and bleak Eastern Territories, and from the decadence and glamour of Upabove to a final confrontation upon which rests the fate of their world, this is their story.”

What could be improved?

  • This novel follows (for the most part) five different people who must work together to save the world from an unknown threat. Personally, I felt like having five such characters was a bit of a stretch for a story of this length, and apart from a couple of scenes towards the finale, two of them aren’t really needed. I personally would have combined the functional role of these two (i.e. the role of the bard and the priest). This is, of course, not an overly important criticism but it’s worth bringing up.
  • There were a couple of elements which just missed the mark for me:
    • One sapient species is treated as inferior to humankind, with a bit of a parallel drawn between them and Native Americans. This was a bit irksome as I don’t feel as if enough work was done to make this species appear equal to humankind- they’re clearly not as sophisticated or developed as any of the main protagonists. I just don’t feel like this point was developed enough to conclusively draw any conclusions, and that doesn’t sit overly well with me.
    • Another species is almost entirely taken from Tolkien. I love a bit of a satirical take on such tropes (like in Pratchett’s books), but this did feel like a straight up copy and paste which didn’t need to be included in my opinion.
  • Mixed: the chapters are short, most of them being about 8 pages long.
    • The good: it’s easy to work through chapter after chapter, taking a break as and when you want to.
    • The bad: it’s hard to get really immersed in the story when there are so many breaks.

What did I really enjoy?

  • First and foremost: the story is fun. It’s an engaging read with plenty of material to keep readers interested both directly related to the plot as well as wider worldbuilding.
    • In the world of The Sleeping Dragon, magic evolved in the place of technology, though they both fill the same requirements of society. Instead of petrol-propelled cars, we have mana-energized flying carpets and combat vehicles; in the place of bullets, we have assault bolts and combat wands.
      • On that point, there is a clear distinction between wizards who can tap into the raw magic which floats around the atmosphere and those who must rely on automated systems which rely on machinery to use magic. I perhaps would have preferred this to be further developed, but there is a significant part of the novel spent in a city which relies on magic and its proper maintenance – Nexus did a good job of explaining exactly how this was done.
    • There’s a fair amount of intrigue during the first half (or so) of the novel as the group try to find out exactly what is going on and why they have been selected for the task, and Nexus did a good job of emphasising their varying levels of trepidation.
  • The characters are all rather fascinating, showing us various insights into a world sufficiently removed from our own as to not feel stale. By no means are they terribly original in genre fiction, but I was glad to see how they came together, their situation not too far away from what one might expect in an RPG.
    • One is a grifter with not much to lose and a desire to keep out of the limelight, others have wasted their lives in shallow endeavours, all have complicated relationships with friends, or family, or the wider community. The characters are all rather interesting. There is nothing of overly-developed complex backstories here, but we do learn a fair amount of their general history.
  • Typical fantasy tropes are acknowledged, subverted, or played up to – creating a style of storytelling not too distant from Pratchett’s Discworld novels (which I am very fond of). Nexus has crafted a tale which subverts traditional tropes, uses clever wordplay, and develops characters that readers can easily identify with.
    • Having said this, Nexus has in no way written a cheap knock-off of Pratchett’s style – The Sleeping Dragon is more narrative-driven and to the point than the Discworld books.
  • I found myself chuckling out loud a few times, and those with a similar British sense of humour might find themselves laughing, too.
  • The plot is well-paced, with just enough time spent in each of the different sections of the story to make sure that I was never confused about what was going on or bored with monotonous details.
    • The writing style is quite episodic in this way, and whilst I enjoyed this, some readers might not love it quite so much. I could very much see this being adapted for television or streaming services in the style of Netflix’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Conclusion: 4.5/5 (rounded to 5/5 where applicable). Nexus succeeds in telling the story he wanted to tell; we see characters grow, a secondary world developed, and a satisfying narrative told from start to (what I hope isn’t a definite) end. I highly recommend it to any folks after a more relaxed and easily-digestible fantasy story. I really do hope there is a sequel published soon, I will certainly be reading other books from Nexus in the future.

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