The first volume in 'A Crown of Stars', 'King's Dragon' leaps right into the thick of things. Based loosely on 10-12th century Germany, Elliot's creation draws the reader in quickly, and doesn't let go.
The story begins in the Kingdoms of Wendar and Varre, united under a single King, Henry. Varre desires independence of Henry's rule, and his half-sister, Sabella, begins to forment rebellion. Meanwhile, the inhuman Eika have attacked the kingdoms again, yet this time, it is not to raid, but appears to be a war of conquest, as several Eika tribes have been united under a single leader, Bloodheart. We are introduced to our two protaganists, Liath, and Alain.
Liath is a the more unusual character. Her father and her have been running for years since her mother's death, and he harbours many secrets, some of which he has taught to Liath. These are knowledge of the stars, and the beginnings of sorcery, outlawed outside of the province of the church centuries ago. After her fathers death, Liath is sold to Hugh, a dubious churchman fwho seeks to use her physically, and to steal her forbidden knowledge of magic. Liath despises Hugh, but can do little accept endure his attentions, and hope she will one day have the chance to escape him.
Alain is the standard by-the-book character. Meaning, he starts off as a likable nobody, and throughout the course of the novel, befriends the weak, finds knowledge of his lineage, and in general becomes a great hero. Nothing new here. Sworn to the church, he'd rather (of course) explore the mysteries of the world. Nevertheless, as he sets out to present himself to the church for service, he is accosted by a prophetic vision of the Lady of Battles, and his path to greatness is paved. Regardless of the familiar construct, Elliot manages to turn Alain into an excellent character, and develops him throughout the book.
In addition to our heroes, Elliot's world is filled with intriguing characters. The immortal Sanglant is the charismatic bastard son of Henry by the unearthly Aoi, long since banished from the world. Henry loves him above all his children, but by law a bastard can never inherit. Among young Ekkehard, childish Sapienta, and cold Theaphanu, he is the most able of his father's children. He is also unfailingly loyal to King Henry, and has no desire for the throne.
No world would be complete without villains, and the despicable frater Hugh is truly one of the worst. In love with Liath, he nevertheless uses her relentlessly to learn the forbidden secrets of the mathemateci, and shows no sign of ever letting her escape him.
King's Dragon is wonderfully written. Elliot has created a beautiful world, obviously the result of meticulous research. Throughout the novel she also provides glimpses at a fully fleshed out history of the countries of Wendar and Varre, as well as fascinating religous backgrounds. A textbook example of first class world-building, King's Dragon immerses the reader in a completely believable universe, and promises to expand it substantially in following books.
This is an excellent start to a series, and a good introduction to Kate Elliot's work. It's obvious 'A Crown of Stars' is an amibitious undertaking will span a number of volumes, as King's Dragon's myriad array of sublpots and growing cast of characters weave the beginings of a complex storyline. One can only hope that Elliot is able to bind the separate elements together in future volumes as well as she did in King's Dragon.