In Knight of the Silver Circle, Duncan Hamilton’s Dumas and Dragons fantastic world of Dragonslayer deepens and continues into a central volume that brings new pieces onto the board and develops the characters and plotlines from the first novel.
Dragonslayer was a lot of fun, a successful melding of a Renaissance-France like realm coping with the unexpected return of a Dragon, and dealing with the real fact that magic not only still exists, but Prince Bishop Amaury (a ‘Cardinal Richelieu’ stand-in character) is intent on bringing magic into respectability, as a cornerstone of his power. The novel’s skilled action beats, character development, and worldbuilding made the novel an entertaining read whose sequel immediately went onto my list.
Knight of the Silver Circle takes place somewhere along the lines of twenty hours after the events of Dragonslayer. The dragon Alpheratz is dead, yes, but that has turned out to be just the beginning, for there are more dragons left in the world after all—some of them are much more brutish in nature, and one with an agenda of their own, which intersects with the goals of the dragonslayer Guillot, the Prince Bishop, and the burgeoning sorceress Solène.
The book does have some of the structure, for better or worse, of a middle-of-the-trilogy book. Things deepen, plots expand (especially the goals of Amaury, whose motives and actions really drive this plot in a way that make it clear that he is the antagonist of the series), and Mirabaya continues to grapple with the facts of Dragons resurgent. But there isn’t the crescendo of a first or single book climax that the novel builds toward, and so doesn’t provide quite the bang of the first novel’s Guillot vs Alpheratz smackdown. To be frank, while the worldbuilding and revelations in the latter part of the novel and in the denouement are rather game-changing in all senses of the term, the ending of this novel just doesn’t quite live up to Dragonslayer. It’s enough for me as a reader for the curiosity and revelatory sense of the phrase —”Now what?” but I think it could have used a little more punch.
And it should be said that aside from that, the punch, the fun, the action and character beats of this novel do live up to the first novel. I was worried that some of the issues the characters faced in the first novel had been buried, leaving gaps in characterization and development without that time and effort that such things take place. Thankfully, the author grounds Guillot, Solène and yes, Amaury in their natures and makes sure there is clear through-line in their development, including setbacks and challenges. His characters are extremely well rounded and human, and resonant. And while there isn’t the big action set piece to match the first novel, the in other scenes the action is depicted cinematically. Again, like the first novel, the novel is much of a positivist and heroic approach to combat and conflict than the grittier grimdark model that is prevalent in fantasy fiction today. Combat is not realistic, but it the aesthetic tone of the combat, its aftermath and the ethos of the novel around conflicts is brighter.
Like any middle-book in the series, this is exactly the wrong place to start for new readers, and so the real target of this review are readers who have read the first book, and readers who are looking to read the series and have read a review ahead. Is this a worthy successor to the first novel? Absolutely. Middle-book structural things aside, if you liked the first book (and I did), the second book will deepen and satisfy that first book, and the investment in time that continuing the series has been positive for me as a reader. I am very curious as to how the revelations and plot developments of this novel will pay off in the third. Two books in, Hamilton has a winning recipe for heroic fantasy fiction.
Knight of the Silver Circle is available from Tor Books.
An ex-pat New Yorker living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading sci-fi and fantasy for over 30 years. An avid and enthusiastic amateur photographer, blogger and podcaster, Paul primarily contributes to the Skiffy and Fanty Show as blogger and podcaster, and the SFF Audio podcast. If you’ve spent any time reading about SFF online, you’ve probably read one of his blog comments or tweets (he’s @PrinceJvstin).