Gollancz, out now
This is Paris. This is 1633. This is a world under attack from dragons. Cardinal Richelieu is on his guard against the greatest danger he, or France, has faced. A secret society known as the Black Claw is plotting in the shadows. They have already struck twice, and with their third blow they mean to finish their task. Unless the Cardinal’s Blades can stop them. They are all prepared to risk their lives for the Crown, this time the question is not whether they will need to… it’s whether or not they will survive. Who are the Dragon Arcana, what secret are the Chatelaine nuns trying so hard to protect, and if an ancient dragon is unleashed on Paris will the Blades really stand a chance against it…?
The final instalment in French author Pierre Pevel’s swashbuckling fantasy series, The Dragon Arcana is a wonderful finale to a brilliant trilogy. A fun, fast, fiery read, Pevel’s latest novel exhibits all the best qualities of its predecessors with a healthy dollop of originality on top.
When a devastating vision by Soeur Béatrice d’Aussaint sees a dragon burn Paris to the ground, it’s up to The Cardinal’s Blades to figure out who’s behind the attack and save the city. But they’re hampered from the outset with allegiances wavering and individual responsibilities of love and loyalty pulling them apart. The Blades are not what they used to be, and Captain La Fargue struggles to hold them together in the face of death, deceit and the ever treacherous dracs.
As with the previous books, Pevel’s characterisation remains one of the novel’s strongest attributes, with each member of the Blades cutting a compelling figure. Whether it’s the baronne de Vaudreuil fighting her destiny, Leprat settling into his new life with the King’s Musketeers or Saint-Lucq doubting his captain’s motives, they captivate equally, an impressive feat for a story with so many leading characters.
Cardinal Richelieu remains the mysterious puppeteer pulling the strings here, while newer characters emerge in the form of the Dragon Arcana, adding to the ever present political plotting and backstabbing shared between the agents of France and The Black Claw.
Real deaths, near deaths and fake deaths are rampant from the outset, creating an aura of fear to preside over the entire novel, something which is only accentuated by the constantly imminent arrival of the prophetic dragon.
As ever, the motives of the main players remain shrouded in mystery until the very end of the book, and while this may ordinarily frustrate, it’s relatively painless here with so much going on. And while the final pages suggest an end to the Cardinal’s Blades, they also hint at the possibility of more swashbuckling Parisian adventures from Pevel in the future.
With a fast paced narrative that deftly balances description, characterisation, action and history to generate impressive forward momentum, Pevel delivers another sure-fire winner to the fantasy genre. 9/10