3 out of 4 stars
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It's very rare that I get to describe a book as "interesting" and mean it as a compliment. Draconian Symphony by Benjamin Dempsey is such a book. It follows Draco, a self-styled mage with the ability to channel fire, as he travels with a succubus going by the rather on-the-nose name of Lascivus, a living sword named Drakkengard, and other equally outlandish companions. Together, they roam Hell and the lands beyond, mostly carrying out life-threatening favors for the Devil himself.
In my opinion, this book's best aspects are its writing style and characters. It is told from various characters' perspectives, and each is distinct enough to identify even without being explicitly told who is narrating. Draco is deliciously sardonic, and his humor through wordplay and cavalier attitude towards life-threatening situations are what drive the story. Lascivus, in contrast, has a very different set of priorities. Her pride and impatience serve as foils to Draco's more laidback demeanor, and despite her character flaws, she never becomes annoying or unlikeable.
While it is set in the distant future, Draconian Symphony draws upon inspiration from several religious texts. In reconciling these, Dempsey creates an elaborate lattice of power struggles supercharged with both magic and science fiction elements. Nothing about the book is realistic, so readers overly concerned with well-researched science fiction and conventional fantasy elements will be disappointed. However, the outlandishness of the setting is simply part of its charm, and no element of the worldbuilding ever feels out of place or forced.
There are two main areas in which this book falls short. First, the writing, while unique, was also sometimes difficult to follow. It swaps between past and present tense very frequently, often even within the same sentence. Draco's propensity towards wordplay and his tendency to black out could get confusing, sometimes meaning that I needed to backtrack just to understand what was going on. Second, the story's direction is somewhat lacking. Some characters simply seem to become irrelevant, particularly Draco's mother and sister, and others, like the living sword he travels with, hardly get any development. This means that the book often feels as if it's simply bridging the gap between battles. While the fight scenes themselves are the focus of the book, and they are quite well-executed, other elements of the plot seem to be simply discarded.
Dempsey's style of prose is certainly intriguing, though I can see some readers becoming frustrated at how meandering it can be, and the book has undeniable shortcomings with regards to its editing and overall narrative. Ultimately, though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Draconian Symphony. Its writing style was captivating and unique, as were its characters and worldbuilding, so I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. I would recommend it to those who enjoy unconventional writing styles rife with wordplay, as well as plot elements inspired by religion, who don't mind some structural shortcomings. I can't help but think that the book would especially appeal to fans of the video game Doom. People sensitive to sexual topics and excessive gore should not read this book.
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