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Nathan’s Review of The Dragon Legion by Isaac Hill

tl;dr: A low-magic military fantasy with bloody battles, sword fights galore, and political intrigue that doesn’t overwhelm the book, The Dragon Legion is sure to be a treat for readers looking a short, fast-paced, action-packed SFF book. While this book really didn’t work for me, I think this had to do more with what I like in a book. The political aspects from the book’s blurb are not overly complex, and at times the book feels like an extended prologue for the series rather than really moving into the heart of the story. Having said that, the book absolutely excels at what it aims for in practice (being a brutal military fantasy). If you are more the target audience, definitely give this one a look!

Cover of The Dragon Legion

 

My full review: 

I want to preface this review by saying that, while the tone of this review is going to be “mid”, hearing a lot of other praise from authors/reviewers about The Dragon Legion definitely means that this is not a “bad” book but is rather just “not a book for me”. The purpose of this review is not the eviscerate the book or anything, but hopefully to help put The Dragon Legion in the hands of the right reader. Which, unfortunately, was not me.

The Dragon Legion is a low fantasy quest overflowing with violence and brutal battle/fight scenes. Hill has a real knack for verbal choreography, as his battle sequences come to life in vivid, cinematic detail. You feel every swing of the sword, every placement of a foot, and the horror of every decapitation. The Dragon Legion is an action-packed and battle heavy narrative, and anyone looking for a blood-soaked adrenaline rush should check this one out immediately. 

Hill also finds a delicate balance of what to actually describe on the page and what to leave to the reader’s imagination. The violence never crosses a line into gratuity, and it never goes into a place that is gut-squelchingly disgusting. Hill ensures that the brutality of these moments is felt on the page, but uses a sparser prose style so that the reader fills in many of the gaps. As someone who directs “a movie in my mind” while I am reading, I got to adjust the horrors of the battlefield to my liking – while still being gut-punched by every thrust and parry.

The battle sequences of The Dragon Legion are punctuated by themes of military brotherhood, political backstabbing and maneuvering, and inter-ethnic tensions. The book is short and the plot is relatively simple, and so none of these elements are overly complex, which I think will work for some readers better than others. The blurb of The Dragon Legion really emphasizes the political machinations, and those are present by not quite the deep, political games that those looking for “political fantasies” may be looking for. A non-spoilery summation is “someone is attacking the kingdom – maybe it is the people we colonized to the north – but wait there is a deeper, more sinister plot at play”. Based on the book’s description, I personally was looking for a bit more here. On the other hand, readers who want just a bit of politics without spending too much time in the throne room talking about taxes and whatnot will feel right at home in Hill’s world.

Similarly, the book is quite light on worldbuilding and magic. There is almost a gray pastiche over everything that happens in this book, and it tonally has a lot more in common with medieval historical fiction (such as The Last Kingdom books) than it does with high/epic fantasy. This might be the lowest of low fantasy that I’ve read in a while, and reminds me of the early days of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Anything supernatural is hovering in the background, and the focus of The Dragon Legion is squarely rooted in the human drama and emotions. Based on how things go I think the fantasy elements will become more prominent as the book advances, but this is definitely one for the readers who are looking for a lesser touch of magic and want a bit more “realism” in their fiction.

Not having to do immense amounts of worldbuilding or magic-system explaining was definitely a positive since the book is so short. This is probably the only place where I feel like I have direct criticism of the book – it felt more like an extended prologue to the plot rather than being the plot. The Dragon Legion is a lot of throat-clearing, but at 300ish pages it is a quick and efficient throat-clearing. It also means that the future books in the series are sure to be meaty!

In sum, The Dragon Legion needs to be in your hands if you want intense battles, a low-magic medieval inspired world, and a dash of political intrigue. While this book wasn’t for me, military fantasy/historical fantasy fans should give this one a peek!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

2 Comments

  • Isaac Hill says:

    Hey Nathan,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my book and review it. That was a really awesome review, thanks for your honesty!

    Isaac Hill

    • Nathan says:

      You’re welcome! I was really hoping to get across why other readers will absolutely eat this book up!

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