The Dragon Scale Lute by J.C. Kang

J.C. Kang has presented us with a beautifully written and intricately detailed account of a fascinating fantasy world with its roots in a culture in some ways very different from our own, and in other ways chillingly similar. This is a world with three moons and kinds of magic you may never have come across before. The political intrigues and Machiavellian machinations are all too familiar, however, as we get deeper into the struggles either to acquire absolute power or to free oneself from its tyranny.

There is convincing detail aplenty in this intricately woven tale, side by side with deliciously impossible feats of
magic. The central notion is that a fifteen-year old princess with a bony, undeveloped body and an acne-ridden face, born to be a high-ranking but unquestioningly obedient pawn in a game of thrones presided over by her aging, beleaguered father, might just have the power to conjure music that can subdue the mightiest and the cruellest of foes without loss of life. It is a notion I found fundamentally appealing, and it kept me reading through all the trials and tribulations that someone in her position in such a society must inevitably endure if she is to follow her heart, and break with tradition in order to do good.

The writing is what matters, however, and this is exquisite: the author’s touch often humorous, apposite and lyrical. The world he describes and the situations he embroils us in is/are labyrinthine, but the quality of the writing should carry you through it. You will need the glossary of 65 names at the beginning. I think that Western readers will need to read this book twice to fully appreciate it, and for that reason it may prove caviar to the general. Connoisseurs of the genre may cavil because of personal preference regarding narrative technique, the pace at which the tale unfolds or the development of certain ‘stock’ characters. Casual readers may find themselves put off by the intricacies of a tale populated by an initially bewildering multiplicity of characters with unfamiliar names. As a reader, however, what always entices me above all else is the quality of the writing, and this is superb.

‘The Dragon Scale Lute’ is a work of considerable merit, and I congratulate the author most sincerely on his monumental achievement. Should some major film studio believe in it enough to invest the requisite millions, it would – of course – also make a terrific film.