Ages ago, I started reading Kate Elliot’s Crown of Stars series, but lost track of just which book I had gotten up to, and so kept putting the rest of the series off. I’ve just started rereading the books to remind myself of what happened.

The general setup of the world is based on actual early medieval history, say around AD 900. The kingdoms of Wendar and Varre (where the bulk of the series takes place) obviously occupy what would be Germany, the Eika (savage non-humans with tough metallic-looking skin, and bony claws on the back of their hands) take the place of vikings, the church is powerful in society, there’s remnants of the Dariyan (Roman) Empire all over, etc.

But, in the details, there’s a lot of worldbuilding going on. The Church of Unities worships a duality Lord and Lady, which promotes more of a ‘separate but equal’ look at the gender divide (generally, women run the household, and therefore serve as all the biscops (sic), but there are warrior women and administrative men as well). There is magic (but of course!), which the church is of two minds about (well, that attitude is historical). A nice conceit is a somewhat more formalized royal retinue, with messengers being ‘Eagles’, infantry ‘Lions’ (with a reference to chess pawns being called lions as well), and heavy cavalry called ‘Dragons’.

As with anything this large, there is a large cast of characters, but for the first half of the book, there are two viewpoint characters in alternating chapters, who both follow the typical epic fantasy ‘zero-to-hero’ arc. Alain quickly ends up at the lowest rung in a lord’s household, and steadily moves up. I found Liath the more engaging character, because of her more studious background, but she suffers abuse that is hard to take. Her arc is also less developed here; it moves forward, but it’s hard to see where it will go.

The plot proper gets going in the second half of the book, and the scope and number of viewpoint characters expands rapidly, dealing with both a major rebellion and and the Eika besieging a major city at the same time. One of the new characters is a secondary character from the first half, but the others are new (though mentioned before), including the Dragon of the title and cover. In general, the two plots are well handled in tandem, though one takes up much more time than the other. Ironically, Alain’s ‘screen time’ goes down even though he’s in the dominant plot, as it also features two new viewpoint characters.

In the end, both storylines hit either an end, or a good stopping point, giving the book a good sense of closure. Alain’s arc also feels finished, as he rides off away from the promise of further action, even though it’s obvious that his life is not destined to be so simple….