Ancient powers collide in tale of battle, bravery and drama

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am

Dragon Horse

By Peter Ward

Published by Doubleday

ISBN 978 0 385 60962 3

Set in ancient China, Peter Ward's debut novel is an ambitious epic that takes itself very seriously. Any 450-page book that starts off with a detailed map and a 'who's who' of 50 characters is going to make quite a few demands on its readers.

Dragon Horse is a mighty fantasy novel that takes us along the Silk Road, through deserts and villages, over mountains and into dark places. It may be weighty, but Ward keeps a tight rein on the plot and never allows the vastness of the settings to overwhelm the characters.

The humans in Dragon Horse may be tiny specks on an immense stage, but they hold our interest until the final dramatic pages of the conflict are over.

Dive into this blockbuster of a book which begins as the creator of Heaven and Earth is pitted against a mighty rebel dragon spirit.

The evil Nameless One is banished from the new world to wait beyond the Arch of Darkness for the time when he will be freed and able to conquer the Heavens and the Earth. It is only a matter of patience and time.

The opening pages are a seductive and breathtaking introduction to what is to follow. Down on Earth, in the trading city of Maracanda, brothers Rokshan and An Lushan are students at the School for Special Envoys. Their father is the richest merchant in the city, and the boys have an assured future ahead of them.

So has their friend, Lianxang. She is the Spellweaver Elect of the secretive Darhan people who live in the Northern Forests. The three friends are unaware of the destiny that awaits them.

Things start to go wrong for the brothers when their father is mysteriously arrested and their uncle has turned traitor to the Emperor. The family is torn apart. Rokshan and An Lushan set off separately in a desperate bid to save their father.

Rokshan heads for the famed valley of the Horsemen where he believes his uncle is hiding. An Lushan travels to the Northern Forests with Lianxang. Ahead of both boys lie dangerous enemies, treacherous traps and a battle that neither of them could possibly imagine.

Dragon Horse is a hugely ambitious saga propelled along by the strong flow of the central narrative. It's quite an achievement to make a novel of this scope and size such a compulsive page-turner, but Ward manages to keep readers glued to his story with his powerful writing and plotting. A brilliant and challenging read.

John Millen can be contacted on