The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

The Empire of Glass
Dragons' Wrath (audio)
Virgin Books
Dragons' Wrath
A Benny Adventure

Author Justin Richards Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 426 40508 1
Published 1997
Cover Fred Gambino

Synopsis: Benny finds herself in possession of the Gamalian Dragon, leading her to an old friend she hasn't met yet, a dangerous archaeological mission and the interest of an evil warlord.


An Overview by Robert Smith? 25/3/98

This is sort of the flipside to Richards' first book, Theatre of War. I found that book to be extremely clever, housed in a writing style that was less than perfect and a rather pointless and boring bit in the middle. Dragons' Wrath has a similar plot in many ways, features two characters from that novel, is well-written, maintains reader interest throughout... and yet seems to fall apart at the end for not being quite as clever as it needed to be.

There are twists aplenty, but sadly most of them seem to be rather obviously flagged beforehand. Perhaps I was just being overalert when I read the book, but in many ways this seemed like Richards on autopilot -- he's delivered excellent surprises of exactly the type on display here, only then they actually were surprises. Too often in this book, the actual prose gave away the fact that 'Something Serious was Going On,' and it wasn't too hard to work out what.

Richards' strong point has always been his endings, which makes it something of a surprise that the ending here simply doesn't live up to the promise of the rest of the novel. In particular, the villain was tagged as such an obvious villain from the beginning that I was expecting him to be too obvious and turn out to be benevolent. This was the one twist I thought I saw coming and was really hoping for that didn't materialise.

Dragons' Wrath doesn't quite fall flat, but it's an average novel, rather than the clever one the new NA line really needs at this point. The book is diverting enough and doesn't bore the reader, but ultimately isn't too much more.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 3/10/99

Justin's books have always been favorites of mine. Whether it's the theatricality, the twisty plots, or the excellent dialogue I'm not sure. But one thing I am sure of is that I liked Dragons' Wrath a lot.

PLOT: The book, let's face it, is a game of three card monte. Don't bother trying to stay one step ahead, because you won't. Containing at least four dragons, several undercover Knights, a lovely android assassin, and several other charming bits. Admittedly, the murder of the dull accountant was rather glossed over, but perhaps that's because he was a dull accountant.

BENNY: It's a plot-based book, but Benny gets quite a few good lines. She's more in her angsty state here than her funny/drunk state, and it fits in well with the book as a whole. And we get a few good one-liners, though not nearly as many as Oh No It Isn't! or Ship of Fools.

BRAXIATEL: I rather like the idea of him becoming a semi-regular, because he can do all the little Doctory things without actually having the baggage that the Doctor carries. He doesn't have to do what's right, or save the downtrodden, or avoid being cruel or cowardly. He can just get on with being inscrutable and cool.

NICHOLAS: All right, I did figure this one out right away, but I think Justin signposted it. A nicely complex character, he does admittedly seem a tad underwritten, but that's as much due to the nature of his role than anything else.

THE VILLAINS: Nusek's a schlub, and is written as such. Was I the only one expecting him to look up to the sky at the end and cry out, "My Skystriker! My glory!"? And Mastrov's an interesting idea, but didn't come across as nasty as I'd hoped.

THE WRITING: Classy, as always. You always get a feeling of being educated when reading Justin's books.

OVERALL: No 10 this time, as there were a few underwritten characters. But when you have a plot this complex, that's a minor quibble. I wonder if we'll see more of the Knights in future Benny Books?


Dragons' Aahs by Peter Niemeyer 10/4/01

I listened to the Big Finish adaptation of this novel before I read the book, and the audio didn't impress me. I wasn't exactly excited to read this book, especially after having just finished the immensely enjoyable Oh No It Isn't novel. But I was committed to reading the Benny books in order.

To my surprise, I found myself liking the book more and more with each passing chapter. First off, I loved Braxiatel. I remember him from The Empire of Glass, but I liked him much more here because he was a more active participant in the story. I also enjoyed the veiled references to The Empire of Glass, which were obvious enough for readers like me but unobtrusive enough to go unnoticed by someone who hadn't read it.

I also liked the complete story of the Knights of Geneve. There's a great deal that didn't make it into the audio CD, particularly the stuff about the original Gamalien Dragon. I don't fault the CD for cutting this out, because something had to get cut and it wasn't absolutely central to the story, but I'm glad the book explored this theme much more.

Another positive note was the odd role that Professor Archduke plays. I'm actually surprised that we saw the payoff of the ending to Oh No It Isn't in the following book. I would have expected the payoff to have come several books later. But nevertheless I enjoyed it.

I suppose part of the reason I didn't like the CD is that this story just doesn't translate to audio as well as Oh No It Isn't. Of course this isn't Justin Richard's fault as it wasn't his job to write an audio-adaptable book. The next on my list is Beyond the Sun, but what I'm really looking forward to is Ship of Fools. So far, the Benny books have been good enough that I'm anxious to read a story that hasn't been adapted to audio and will therefore be 100% new to me.

Was This Book Worth the Money I Spent On It: Absolutely

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 4/10/02

Dragons' Wrath was a fairly standard type of story, but one that contained enough plot twists and turns to hold my interest all the way to the end. The book didn't blow my mind, or stand my world-view on its head, but it did keep me entertained and amused. It's not deep, it's not heavy, but it's quite a bit of fun.

The plot moves quickly and provides us with very few dull moments. For much of the time I genuinely didn't know what direction the story was going to move in. That is especially praiseworthy when one considers how uninspired the bare outline of the story might have read, featuring, as it does, a treasure hunt, an ancient relic and a political power-struggle. So the fact that Justin Richards managed to make these somewhat tired elements not only interesting, but also quite unpredictable, is striking. The storyline manages to twist in logical and interesting ways, reviving any reader who may have grown weary of too many adventure stories based on long lost riches and power-mad dictators.

There was one section that kept annoying me though, and I was fortunate that the offending passages weren't thrown into the forefront too many times. Richards sets up the power-struggle in such a way that the focus of a tyrant's ambition is ultimately not really necessary, given what his main objectives are. A few times it is mentioned that some of his motivations are really just for show, as he already has a great deal of political power and influence. It kept nagging at me, because it felt as though this was getting in the way of the story being told. I thought it was shooting itself in the foot by cheapening and lessening the main thrust of the plot. On the other hand, this really wasn't referenced to all that often, and the resolution to this particular strand went a good way towards regaining my favor.

In this, her second book since branching out on her own, Benny is shown to be quite capable of carrying a series by herself. She's still a very engaging character, but more importantly, the fictional universe itself contains more than enough outlying pieces for the star to interact with. This series is getting richer as it goes along, and there are lots of little pieces for the authors to draw on if needed, or to ignore if unnecessary. It's certainly boding well for the later books in the series, and I'm quite looking forward to getting to the rest of them.

Dragons' Wrath was definitely a solid and enjoyable adventure. If you really wanted to skip it, you probably wouldn't miss anything terribly important. But it's a fairly diverting and compelling story, so I really couldn't recommend doing that. Read this one on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A Review by Finn Clark 18/10/04

There's nothing obviously wrong with this book. It's readable, potters along efficiently and has more than enough plot twists to keep the author always one step ahead of the readers. Unfortunately it's also bland and unmemorable.

Admittedly I always have trouble remembering which is which of Justin Richards's Benny NAs. He wrote four, if you don't count Big Finish's The Doomsday Manuscript, but I'm pretty sure I'd have remembered more about the others. The Medusa Effect had a haunted spaceship. The Joy Device is the comedy in which Benny's friends try to make her latest adventure seem boring. Tears of the Oracle has... um, well, I remember that Henry Potts likes it. However not one word of Dragon's Wrath rang a bell with me as I reread it, despite the fact that I didn't read the early Benny NAs until years later when the line had been cancelled and I was catching up on the holes in my collection.

Dragon's Wrath is about an archeological investigation into the life of long-dead Gamaliel (acclaimed as a conquering hero, but not necessarily such a nice guy) and the Gamalian Dragon (of which there's at least one copy) which he captured from the Knights of Geneve (probably long-dead, though semi-legendary organisations like that often crop up when you least expect them). Yes, the whole book reads like that. That aforementioned expedition is funded by a nasty piece of work called Romolo Nusek, but he's not the focus of the book. This book's big revelations are all three centuries old and probably weren't exciting even back then. If you stripped away all the dry exposition, you wouldn't have much book left.

Normally a Justin Richards plot twist is a good thing. However for someone not desperate to know everything about Gamaliel, the Knights and their dragons, it might get a bit wearing to read twist upon twist about them. Eventually you stop caring when told (again) that Everything You Know Is Wrong.

There are bits I liked. I liked the distinctions drawn between history (Nicholas Clyde) and archeology (Benny). It was interesting to see Braxiatel being introduced for the first time as a Benny regular, with references to Theatre of War and Empire of Glass. The action-packed ending is dull, but the courtroom scenes some time previously are much livelier and arguably the book's real climax. I think I'd have liked this book much better without its last fifty pages.

This certainly isn't a bad book. We've all read far worse. It passes a few hours painlessly enough, but I shouldn't think it'll live long in your memory... kinda like a slightly classier Christopher Bulis. For completists only, to be honest. For the rest of us, life's too short.