A Fraught-Filled Game: Dianne Dean reviews ‘The Dragon and the Crow’ by T. B. McKenzie.

The Dragon and the Crow by T. B. McKenzie. Dragonfall Press, 2011

You live in a world where everyone has a particular skill – how would you hide that you do not? How would you feel?

Young Brin of T.B. McKenzie’s The Dragon and the Crow is still a boy, he hasn’t as yet earned the name of his father. Every day is filled with pain, anger, jealousy and frustration as his peers learn how to harness the ‘magick’ they are doled out each day. He, on the other hand, must find ever inventive ways of disguising his own lack of magick. Convinced that he would receive full measure on the day he was to be named, Brin plays a fraught-filled game that has him constantly on the edge of being discovered.

In fact, at times it was hard to believe that no-one had discovered his secret as those around him perform acts of magick to heal, mend, communicate and a score of other things that assist their daily lives. But then I was given to wonder that in a world where everyone is expected to have the skill then any observed lapses would be easily reasoned away – particularly for a young child still learning the rudiments of spell-casting.

And yet that there would be one without magick was prophesised – a child that would ‘right an ancient crime’.

So our Brin gets drawn into a power struggle, one in which he feels very much to be the cat’s paw, powerless to determine his own destiny and unsure as to who to trust.

McKenzie begins the first book of his series, Magickless, with one of his more twisted characters, The Hen – a nameless man in which Brin eventually finds many reflections of himself.  Each event within the story unfolds more of the world and more of players. Simple motives become more complex as the plot thickens with more tangles. This approach by the author lends a reality to his story telling with his King and his Witch becoming multi-dimensional – I am still not totally certain as to who will end being the ‘good’ and who the ‘bad in this series – and not even sure that that designation will be totally appropriate to the side that wins out. You will need to make your own decision.

You will be drawn deeply into Arkadia as you try to determine where the twists will lead you. And there are some nice subplots that develop some interesting characters to add depth to an already masterfully woven novel.

McKenzie also scores well on his development of a language of spells, something that isn’t as easy as it, no pun intended, sounds. He says on his own blog that he was looking for something that would not sound like latin and had a runic feel to it. What he has made has a distinctly musical sound.  In his words:  “Solresol can be sung. What better way to cast a magick spell?”

The novel centres around the restrictions of expectation. Sons are expected to follow their father’s professions. The names they take as adults are expected to be those of their fathers. Brin’s father expects him to be a Mender – an expectation that binds Brin tightly, even leavened with love as it is. It is wish to fulfill this expectation that motivates Brin throughout the novel until he begins to reluctantly grow away from it. Most will live within their restrictions, happily even, but for others the frustration is too much.

McKenzie is also asking us to consider whether or not the ends justifies the means. Once there was a trend within fantasy novels that the good are unblemished and the evil are stained black. The characters of The Dragon and The Crow do not stand on each end of the spectrum.

Those that are painted as good at the beginning of the story are soon found to have committed acts that can only be defined as evil to achieve their ends – but are they evil?

Those that stand as enemies of the land also seem to have reason and compassion in their hearts – so are they evil or not?

Even Brin finds himself doing things that he finds distasteful and even repugnant in the attempt to reach an end that will satisfy the expectations of his family and his community.

… and at the novel’s end we are still left to wonder who Brin should trust.

Perhaps he should trust himself.


– Dianne Dean


Dianne Dean is based in North East Victoria. Her first children’s book is currently with a publisher and will be released in early 2013. She can be found at www.austwriters.com

Dragonfall Press can be found at http://www.dragonfallpress.com/

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