In the Belly of the Beast: Dragon Coast by Greg van Eekhout

Dragon Coast is the third and—for now, at least, it seems—the last novel in the series that began with last year’s California Bones and continued in Pacific Fire. Greg van Eekhout’s trio of capers are really entertaining and dramatic fantasy heist novels. Set in a California divided into two competing kingdoms, where consuming magical creatures (and people) gives osteomancers power, and mages command the power of water, Dragon Coast picks up almost directly where Pacific Fire leaves off.

Therefore be on the lookout for spoilers, since it’s impossible to discuss Dragon Coast without talking about its predecessors. And I think it should be noted that while it might be possible to read Dragon Coast solo, without the context of its predecessors—depending on your tolerance for landing in medias res—it would hardly be ideal. That context provides nearly all of Dragon Coast‘s emotional heft and impact: without it, it would seem a shallow novel indeed.

Which is not to say that Dragon Coast is particularly deep. It’s deeper than California Bones and Pacific Fire, with more to say on the themes of family and the nature and limits of power, and the question of what makes a monster. But at its heart, it’s a caper story, a heist—and it’s aimed more squarely at fun than serious.

At the end of Pacific Fire, Sam, the adopted son of Daniel Blackland, had been absorbed into the Pacific firedrake, a magical weapon of mass destruction created by Daniel’s golem-twin, Paul Sigilo, from the Northern kingdom of California. Daniel killed Paul and lost Sam, and the firedrake broke loose, to rampage uncontrolled. But Sam still exists within the firedrake, and Daniel is determined to get him back. When his first attempt—assisted by Sam’s friend Em and Daniel’s longtime heist partner Moth—goes terribly wrong, leading to the capture of the intact firedrake by the forces of the Northern kingdom, Daniel has to fall back on a far more perilous scheme. One for which he needs the help of Gabriel, Southern California’s chief water mage and one of the great powers of the kingdom, with whom Daniel has had a long if somewhat tenuous alliance. But with the power of the firedrake at stake, even a fundamentally decent man like Gabriel might be tempted to make his own plans—plans not to rescue Sam, but to bring the firedrake under his own control.

Daniel, accompanied by Moth, has to infiltrate the court of Northern California, posing as his golem brother Paul, in order to steal a very rare substance, the axis mundi, from the sceptre of the Northern Hierarch herself. This endeavour is fraught with complications: Paul has a family and enemies of his own, and the heist itself may prove less difficult for Daniel than simply surviving Paul’s political adversaries long enough to pull it off. Not to mention the fact that their mother is there, and their mother knows that Daniel killed Paul.

Meanwhile, Gabriel, his friend/servant Max, and Daniel’s old partner Cassandra make their way into the Northern Kingdom by a series of underground waterways. Their mission: to locate the firedrake, so that Daniel can bring the axis mundi to it and retrieve what’s left of Sam. Along the way, a lot of things go wrong…

And there’s one big wrinkle in everyone’s plans. For within the firedrake, Sam is still alive and aware, a passenger in the beast. But he’s not the only intelligence inside the firedrake, and at least one of the other ones might consume him entirely.

Van Eekhout uses at least four different points of view to tell this story: Cassandra’s, Gabriel’s, Daniel’s, and Sam’s. It could easily have been a confusing mess, but instead, it’s deftly done, and makes for very easy reading. The narrative flies along, skimming from tension to tension, but never losing sight of the characters and their very human needs and desires. There are no actual villains here, just complicated people—many of them, granted, quite ruthless. And everything comes together in an explosive conclusion.

Like its predecessors, Dragon Coast is a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re looking for caper stories? This is a good place to find them.

Dragon Coast is available September 15th from Tor Books.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

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