The dragon realms are moving towards war. Speaker Shezira has been deposed and is held prisoner in the Adamantine Palace, whilst her daughters summon their armies and dragons to free her. A religious fanatic is intent on seizing control of the rebel dragon army known as the Red Riders and unleashing fire and blood on those who do not accept the word of the Flames. And, amidst the towering peaks of the Worldspine, a dragon has freed itself from bondage and plots to free all of dragonkind from humanity's yoke once and for all.
The King of the Crags is the follow-up to last year's Adamantine Palace. In my review of the first book, I cited the author's furious pace as being a major plus, but it might have come at the expense of the more detailed worldbuilding required to make an epic fantasy novel really shine (although there are plenty of other fantasy books where such worldbuilding takes over and bogs down the narrative, so it's a difficult balancing act). Also, with 70 chapters in 350 pages, the pace was a little too fast and furious at times.
The sequel is a stronger work. 50 chapters in 370 pages means events are given more weight, characters have more time to develop and the world is able to come through a lot more. The addition of a map helps the reader place the various locations and work out the significance of one realm's power and allegiances over another, whilst characters are more fully fleshed-out and developed. Deas even has time for some metatextual commentary on how dragons are treated in other fantasy novels (the line about the docile dragons being ponies with wings was quite amusing, and a common criticism of other fantasy novels), which works better when we get to see the wild dragons, who are considerably more alien in thought and deed, in action.
Some of the criticism of the booking being too fast and furious remains, such as the fact that Princess Jaslyn still has very little page-time for an apparently major character and elements like the Taiytakei still feel somewhat under-developed (although that's probably deliberate in their case). But other characters like Jehal and Kemir shine, the world feels more solid and interesting, the battles are well-described and the various plots twists are more ruthless and startling than anything else this side of Paul Kearney and George RR Martin, and the wait for the third book feels a lot more onerous this time around.
The King of the Crags (****) is a strong, well-written epic fantasy novel and marks some major improvements in the author's style. The novel is available now in the UK from Gollancz and will be published by Roc in the USA in February 2011. A third book in the series is due in a year, whilst Deas has a not-entirely-unrelated YA fantasy novel, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice, due in the autumn.