I’ve been a fan of Robert Kroese for a couple of years. I discovered him with The Big Sheep, which is an excellent novel, and went into his Rex Nihilo adventures, which are a star wars-ish parody that really is a love letter to sci-fi. What they have in common is a lot of comedy, and I almost would think of Kroese as the Terry Pratchett of Sci-Fi (if that weren’t already Douglas Adams).
He launched The Saga Of The Iron Dragon as a kickstarter last year, to a lot of buzz. Vikings in spaaaaace! I thought I might find something ridiculous and off the wall as his other concepts, but the more I read into it, this was more of a serious venture.
Kroese did a lot of research on this as well. He took a trip to the Nordic countries last year, and I saw the stacks of books he posted when he was reading up on Vikings. He put the work in, had a cool concept, and is definitely a very smart guy to be able to piece together some cool history and make a story. But would he succeed in a more serious venture with his work?
The Dream Of The Iron Dragon opens in modern times, a prologue of people investigating what appears to be a space ship crash in Iceland in modern times. Not what I expected, but I was interested in that perspective. It set up a mystery, and just as I was getting comfortable, we shifted to the future.
In this future, humanity is at war with a single alien race, who’s been kicking our butts. Earth is all but uninhabitable, and humans are struggling to survive. There’s alien jump gates that allow us to go from system to system, and we find our story taking place on a science vessel who is investigating an asteroid out in the middle of nowhere. They come across the alien race and something mysterious, and it’s a really awesome space opera war set up that takes a good portion of the book. As much as I’d been waiting for vikings, this surprised me how much of the book this took up, but I was very invested in this greater world by Kroese’s expert characterization and gripping suspense. As this part drew to an end, and i knew what was coming–they were being flung back in time, I almost didn’t want this portion of the story to end– and i hope he gets back to it in future books.
Without giving too may spoilers from this point, a shuttle from the ship crash lands on Earth in viking times, and hijinx ensues. The crew is trying to survive, and also to get back, but plans go desperately wrong. We switch perspectives to crew we met before, but didn’t have intimate time with, as we were dealing with those running the ship, which I was sad for at first, but I quickly became just as attached to these characters as any of the others. The vikings get a few perspective points as well — and they’re just as deep and intricate of characters. I really can’t speak too highly of how well Kroese did on that front.
Kroese teaches us quite a bit about the history of the Nordic countries from this time too, just in little snippets so it’s never too overwhelming. There are points where there’s a bit of infodump, but it’s interesting, and mostly history we don’t hear a terrible amount about, so it’s a learning experience that almost feels like earlier Heinlein novels when he drifts into his scientific concepts.
Through the first half of the book, it’s about perfect. There’s a big battle mini-climax at a point which is just awesome. I will say from about half to two thirds, the pace bogs down a little bit. I’m still trying to avoid spoilers, but there’s points when goes into montage-explain mode where the crew needs to perform a task, they use some science to do it, and they complete it. This is done three or four times and along with the history lessons, slowed down this portion of the book to where maybe some of it could be cut or glossed over. I understand the necessity of most of it, but it did make for some skimable material.
It picks right back up for an epic climax… and ends on a cliffhanger. We aren’t resolved at all beyond getting past a single hump in this history section that was set up about 30% into the book, which is a big one, but it leaves this feeling like a part of a book rather than complete because of it. Now, Kroese never set expectations otherwise, so it’s very much as advertised and is imminently forgivable — it was billed as a trilogy going in, and the way the books are titled it’s kinda obvious they wouldn’t just get back into space and come back into the present in this first installment, so I don’t feel cheated as a reader. but I hate cliffhangers! That’s just me. Some people won’t have a problem with this at all, but definitely go into this knowing you’ll need 3 books for the complete story.
It did work, the cliffhanger. I’m interested. I’m hooked. I really want the next one to come out. That last battle in the book was epic. The stakes were high throughout, and the danger is real to the characters. I can’t offer more without massive spoilers, but even with the slow down in pacing and my lack of closure, frankly this is the best book I’ve read this year and I think it’ll be hard pressed for me to find one in 2018 that I”ll enjoy more. Of course, now he has to top this for the next one.
Overall, the complaints are minor, and this book is solid science fiction. World building is A+. History A+. Characters A+, can’t really ask for more than that. I haven’t firmly concluded my Dragon Awards list yet, but it’s currently my frontrunner for Best Science Fiction category.
You can check out Dream of the Iron Dragon here.