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Dragon in Chains    by Daniel Fox order for
Dragon in Chains
by Daniel Fox
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Dragon in Chains, Daniel Fox introduces readers to a fantasy world reminiscent of old China, where a young Emperor is powerless under the rule of the Dowager Empress and her council of generals. Jade gives Emperors long life and strength, and jade is mined only in the inland mountains of the island of Taishu. Between Taishu and the mainland, a dragon lies chained under the ocean, her magical bonds maintained by monks who work night and day at their Forge.

Fox masterfully weaves multiple story strands into a smooth braid. He begins with young Han, sold by his father to a scribe and then captured by pirates, led by the cruel Li Ton, who turns out to have an interesting history. When those same pirates attack the monks and kill all of them but the monksmith, the latter claims Han and chains him to maintain a fragile control over the magic that keeps the dragon from stirring and devastating their world. Han is eventually aided in his attempts to control the dragon by a rebel army doctor and his niece Tien.

Next readers meet Old Yen, a fisherman, and his beloved granddaughter Mei Feng. When the Imperial troops (fleeing from advancing rebel armies) commandeer Old Yen's boat for their Emperor's voyage to Taishu, the young Son of Heaven (Chien Hua) claims Mei Feng as his concubine to keep her at his side. As friendship and love grows between them, she offers wise advice and helps him to claim some small control over his own destiny and over what's done to her people in his name. She begins by initiating a project to build a new palace on the island.

Finally, there is young jade miner Yu Shan, whose family finds a huge, miraculous piece of jade and dispatch him to take it directly to the Emperor and so avoid the intermediary jademasters who steal all the profit. Captured by warrior woman Jiao, he's taken instead to the workshop of Jiao's good friend Guangli, a highly skilled jade carver, who teaches Yu Shan how to handle jade - and what it means to be infected by jade.

As the dragon struggles against Han's shaky control over her, these players' destinies converge and this first episode builds to a cliffhanger of an ending, involving assassination, betrayal and invasion - as the dragon rises. I recommend Dragon in Chains to anyone who enjoys a rousing fantasy adventure, and look forward to the sequel.

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