I’m back! After finishing my committed 52 reviews, I ended up not reviewing for a while, because life etc. NB: Much of what follows is from the slightly more technical and in depth blog post concerning my attempts to explain the theory behind why part 2 of any trilogy is often the least fun or entertaining. As of now, the Dragon Lords series is a trilogy; I have no idea if the author will keep it that way or continue with further installments. I read the first one (Fools Gold) a while ago, and found it entertaining, if at times vulgar, fantasy fluff. I was in a bookstore, saw False Idols (book 2), and picked it up because I felt the need for something of that sort. I was in for a surprise. Book 2 contained little of the screwball comedy between the characters and winning by the seat of their pants or in spite of themselves. The happy ending had not stayed happy; everyone was miserable and unlikeable, and the rest of the novel kept up the misery. By the end, the bad guy (whose name may have been inspired by Spaceballs) essentially had won and nearly all the heroes had been murdered. More detail would be spoilers.
On the one hand, I was annoyed by not getting what I wanted from the read, but on the other hand, I was inspired to consider why this seems to be a thing with book 2 of a trilogy. My basic answer is Joseph Campbell and “The Monomyth”. The theory states that tragedy and comedy together are necessary for a total life experience, and that both are needed for catharsis, the Aristotelian goal of tragedy involving the release of negative emotions of pity and fear. The hero’s journey which inspires this release of negative emotions has 3 stages (separation, initiation, return) each of which consists of 5-6 steps or episodes. These 3 stages represent the trilogy structure as used in fiction, both literary and cinematic.
This got me thinking about how this seems to be the eternal problem of the trilogy. Book 1 is a rousing, entertaining adventure, book 2 is depressing and not fun, makes you hate everyone and everything in the story, and then book 3 tries to create a balance of the seriousness of book 2 and the fun of book 1 but is rarely as good. I say ‘book’ here but very similar things can be seen in the original Star Wars trilogy, which was explicitly based in part on Campbell’s ideas. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trilogy of movies follows the same general patterns as well.
Back to False Idols. Upon further consideration, there are some interesting things going on in the novel. The ideas of the gods and how they might impact human society, and what happens if a monotheistic religion takes over from a polytheistic one. We do get some further world-building, and an epilogue that suggests the possibility for redemption from all the awfulness. I have also noticed that there might be some literal use of Campbell’s trilogy, since the stuff about the gods appears to be mocking elements of Greco-Roman mythology, so maybe (fingers crossed) The Dragon Lords will pull off what The Fairly Odd Parents did with its Wishology! trilogy: a mockery of the Campbellian trilogy that is itself a Campbellian trilogy that actually works both as a parody and a trilogy.