Campbell Nails YA: The Dragons of Dorcastle | Review + Author Interview

The Dragons of Dorcastle: The Pillars of Reality, Book 1 - Jack Campbell, MacLeod Andrews, Audible Studios

A YA Dystopian Steampunk Fantasy SciFi Action-Adventure Romance that never loses focus despite its genre bending.


The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of Dematr behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her.


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Source: I purchased this book myself from Audible.



The Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell, read by MacLeod Andrews, published by Audible Studios (2014) / Length: 11 hrs 27 min



This is Book #1 of 4 (so far) in “The Pillars of Reality” series. According to the author, “I just had confirmed by Audible the new release date for Pillars Of Reality book five, The Servants of the Storm. It has been moved back a little to 1 July. That's the slightly bad part. The really good part is that Audible is really moving up the release of the sixth and last book in the series, The Wrath of the Great Guilds. That will now be released on 1 August, just a month later!”



I usually have trouble identifying a favorite book among so many, but I have no trouble stating that this is currently my favorite series! I love it so much that I would fill this review with lots of gifs of excited people... if I didn't dislike gif reviews so much.  I've read about other reviewers who have trouble putting their feelings into words for their favorite books, so I know that I am not alone in wanting to say, "forget this review, just go read the book."


One of the things I love about these books is the very mature way Mari tries to deal with what is developing between her and Alain and his adorable cluelessness. (Although, I don't mind her jealousy in later books, since it shows that even mature & rational people can be human; and she is still a teenager.) I love characters who think, and Mari definitely has Second Thoughts and starts developing Third Thoughts as well.

“First Thoughts are the everyday thoughts. Everyone has those. Second Thoughts are the thoughts you think about the way you think. People who enjoy thinking have those. Third Thoughts are thoughts that watch the world and think all by themselves. They’re rare, and often troublesome." ~Sir Terry Pratchett

Plus it's a rolicking good adventure with bandits, battle magic, corruption, kidnappings, and even a dragon (but, despite the title, you don't get that until the very end).


Note: I only give 5 star reviews here on my blog to books that have stood the test of time. Although this book isn't very old, it has remained a favorite through 3 (or maybe 4?) complete listens and many "favorite parts" listens.


Also Note: Normally I divide my reviews into Character, Worldbuilding & Plot (it helps me organize my thoughts). It proved impossible in this case, however. This series is a perfect example how, in great books, none of these things is separate from each other. The story really is driven by who the characters are and even where they find themselves. So I will be mixing sections.



Mages & Magic: Mages believe that "nothing is real," that the world is an illusion, and if you are strong and detached enough from illusion you can use your mind to temporarily change it. They build "strength" and inculcate detachment through cruelty and absolute suppression of emotions. They regard other people as shadows who also aren't real and don't matter. Magic is limited by both the mages' personal strength and by the amount of ambient power that can be drawn from their current surroundings.


Alain: Possibly the youngest to ever become a full mage (at only 17). He struggles with his hidden emotions, especially the feelings he still has for his parents who taught him good principles in his youth. He is a good match for Mari, as he likes to learn and think and understand. His abilities have led to him being trained as a combat mage. (One of the things I like is that not every mage can perform every kind of spell. Alain is very good, but there are things he can't do.)


Mechanics & Technology: The Mechanics have a monopoly on all knowledge of science and engineering in the world. The technology is not improving though, as they currently forbid all "innovation." Although they know that non-mechanics are real, they see them as inferior and to be kept in their place.


Mari: The youngest ever to become a Master Mechanic (at 18), she earned her mechanic status as a steam expert and her master status as one of the very rare computer experts (although their computers are very primitive). She is bold, brash, and more than a bit bossy (although she sometimes resents that people often look to her for leadership); but most of all, she is determined to try and always do the "right" thing.


Alain & Mari: This relationship has been a breath of fresh air after so many others based seemingly on physical attraction alone. Although there is attraction, it is touched very lightly upon in this first book. They each have legitimate reasons for the desire they begin to feel to just be with the other person (although Alain is very confused about it all). It is also wonderful to have a relationship in which, after the initial hostility caused by the hatred between their guilds, they support and try to treat each other well. And note: contrary to the norm, she's a bit older than he is.


Another thing I love about this series is all the great supporting characters, even people you meet just briefly are intriguing. This first book, however, focuses more on Alain & Mari, alone & together, as we get to know them. I think my favorite side character is the unnamed Mage Elder who helps Alain understand his prophetic vision and charges him with protecting “The Daughter.”



The book begins in "The Wastes." It is hot & unpleasant, even for a mage who isn't supposed to notice such things. The first part of the books takes place here, as Alain and Mari pit themselves against it in an effort to survive. It is while attempting to escape the physical desert that Alain begins to, unknowingly, escape from the desert his training has made of his life.


It ends in Dorcastle, after passing through the extremely pretentious and unpleasant city of Ringmon. Dorcastle seems to be a nice place, although (as stated in the title) it is currently being plagued by "dragons." Indications are that we might return there in a later book.


I wouldn't call the ending a cliffhanger; it doesn't end in the middle of something. It doesn't resolve much though.



This whole review has been one long highlights section, so I will just include a couple of quotes.

"She was intelligent, resourceful, and steadfast…she saved my life. She asked my advice and listened to it. Somehow she has caused me to remember things that I should not." ~Alain

“You have the perfect chance to say ‘I told you so,’ but instead you find a way to say I was right, too. What’s the matter with you, Alain? You listen to me, you believe in me, you respect me and you care about me. You’re honest and smart and brave and resourceful. You never ask for anything for yourself and you’re always there when I need you. Where are your flaws? You were supposed to have flaws. Do you have to be perfect?" ~Mari

CAUTIONS: Throughout this series, it is made clear that most Mages & Mechanics don’t concern themselves with “consent” when it come to physical relations with Commons. We don’t get any details of particular incidents though, and neither of our main characters is comfortable with the practice.



He did a good job of capturing the tone of the book and a great job at both emoting and not emoting (i.e. sounding flat when a mage is speaking). The female voices are not terribly "feminine," but there is good distinction between characters. I did hear 1 or 2 mispronunciations. The speed was good, I was able to listen on normal speed (instead of my usual 1.25).



The Dragons of Dorcastle (Pillars of Reality #1) by Jack Campbell, read by MacLeod Andrews, published by Audible Studios (2014) / Length: 11 hrs 27 min Buy Now | +Goodreads

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Bonus Author Interview (Pt 1)

(scroll down for more)


How did you choose/come up with your lead characters names?

I didn't. They told me their names. Mari has always been Mari, and Alain always Alain.


That's true of most of the other characters in the series as well. Where did Calu get his name? He's never told me. Asha has always been Asha. Even the Dark One, Mara the Undying, showed up name and all.


When a character doesn't tell me their name upfront, I often browse through lists of names for different nationalities to see if any feel right. Which country I look in is sort of random, and if I don't find something that feels right I try another. But usually something leads me to the right list where a good name can be found. Mage Alera for example. Her name sounds almost Elf-like, but is actually Nigerian, from the Ogoni. Why did I look at Nigerian names first? I have no idea. But as soon as I saw Alera, I knew it was her name.

What motivated you to sit down and write your first book?

I read a lot of books, and loved the stories in them, both the real stories in history and the made-up ones in fiction. (After a while I learned that some of the stories in history are made up and some of the fiction is more real than non-fiction.) I was coming up on the end of my time in the US Navy, which hadn't left room for writing, so I decided to finally give it a serious try. I thought I had stories that people would like to read, different ways of approaching old ideas and maybe some new ideas as well. Anyone who writes has to start out at least a little delusional, because based solely on our hope and belief that other people will want to read our tales we sit down and start trying to turn ideas into stories. I began with short stories, but soon enough two of those stories sharing the same lead characters combined and grew, so I can honestly say that first novel wasn't really planned. (Unfortunately, anyone reading it could tell.)

How long did it take you to write this book?

Usually a book takes me about six months to a year. But in the case of The Dragons of Dorcastle, it was the first book I wrote, which grew out of two shorter stories that I linked and then expanded. Being my first attempt at a novel it was…let's just say it needed a lot of work, but at the time I couldn't tell since I didn't have enough experience with writing.


Eventually I figured out that the book had big issues, but I wasn't sure what to do and so set it aside while I worked on other projects. But I kept thinking about it, and wondering what to do with it. About ten years later, I finally realized how to start fixing The Dragons of Dorcastle. By then I had several other books published and had learned a lot more about storytelling. Using my memory of the plot, I completely rewrote the book rather than trying to fix it sentence by sentence. Then there were some more changes needed.


And publishers kept rejecting it, because it was different (different from what I had published before, so even though I had a good track record as an author they were wanting me to keep writing the same thing, and different from a lot of other books, which you would think would be a positive but publishers are incredibly conservative when it comes to looking for something new, usually wanting "something new" that is as much as possible like the old stuff).


All told, it was nearly twenty years after I'd written the first draft before Audible bought the rights to bring out the series. Since then I've gone through each of the six books in the series to do any more necessary rewrites or edits before they were published, so I guess you could say that Dragons marks my longest writing effort by far. But since I've always liked the series and loved the two lead characters, I was willing to maintain that effort.

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