Dream of the Dragon Pool: A Daoist Quest

Albert A. Dalia
Pleasure Boat Studio

Reviewed by Superwench83

Excerpt from author’s blurb:

Forced by the emperor’s exile order, Li Bo travels up the great Yangtze River toward certain death in distant Burma/Myanmar. Yet Li, not so concerned by his imminent death, regards his trip as a quest for his lost sense of poetic inspiration. Along the way, he unwittingly befriends the emperor’s most powerful shamaness who is trying to escape from the palace to Mount Wu and serve the mythical Rain Goddess, mistress of that sacred mountain. Li Bo accidentally awakens the dark forces of the Blood Dragon and its ghostly slaves. They are in pursuit of a magical sword, the legendary Dragon Pool Sword that Li Bo finds himself in possession of after a dream visit from a Daoist Immortal.

The cast is rounded out by Li’s traveling companion, a wandering blade veteran of the Tang dynasty’s Central Asian conquests, known as the “Iron Talon;” a mysterious swordsman-musician, who travels with a ghost-catching drunken monkey; a “dream assassin,” capable of killing people from within their dreams; and a blond, green-eyed, Central Asian female ghost, enslaved by the Blood Dragon’s powers.

Written by a China scholar with two masters and a Ph. D. in the nation’s history and religion, Dream of the Dragon Pool by Albert A. Dalia is an authentic Chinese adventure full of ghosts, swords, and magic. Dalia is an adequate storyteller, and few other novelists could compete with the rich base of Chinese historical knowledge he brings to his tale. Yet while the story was interesting and at times entertaining, Dream of the Dragon Pool read like an amateur novel, albeit one with potential.

The main mark of amateurism which hit me in this novel was the dialogue, much of which is trite and forced. Good dialogue is much tighter than real conversation. It is there to do more than just show two people talking–it must communicate plot movement, it must characterize, it must develop the scene. Dalia’s dialogue rarely does these things. It also doesn’t resemble real conversation. Good dialogue doesn’t mimic conversation, but it does resemble it. And in real conversation, people don’t always answer questions directly. They are evasive; they answer questions with questions. When a person says something, they may be already thinking of their next comment, so their response won’t match up perfectly with their companion’s words. I don’t want to get into a deep dialogue discussion, but suffice it to say that this book’s dialogue is stale and wanting.

Another issue I had was the point of view. Most of the time, the story was your standard multi-viewpoint novel, getting into various characters’ heads, no all-knowing narrator in sight. But every now and then, the author interrupts the story’s flow with a scholarly aside about the number of miles long a river is and what battles were fought there and all sorts of other irrelevant info. Dalia actually did a good gob incorporating the relevant research details into the story–a tricky task–so it was almost disheartening to see these chunks of useless data cluttering up the narrative.

Other issues include purple prose, clumsy plotting, and under-developed characters. The text is riddled with superfluous adverbs and adjectives. Certain plot details make little logical sense other than that the author had to write them this way to make the plot work right later. As for the characterization, it wasn’t all bad. The ghost Chen is fairly sympathetic, the swordsman Ma entertaining. But all in all, the characters are one-dimensional. There are no deep, secret longings or hidden motives. There is a lack of personal stakes.

And yet I did say this book had potential. Dalia knows how to set a good story pace and demonstrates some skill in spinning a yarn that makes the reader ask, “What happens next?” Despite the purple prose, he also has a gift for description, and some of these passages paint a beautiful, vivid picture. The trouble is, this is not enough to carry the book. Dream of the Dragon Pool is typical of many amateur efforts I’ve read. It has the makings of a good book, but it lacks a professional’s finesse. If you like the idea of a medieval China historical fantasy, if you like mythology, there’s a good chance you will find some entertainment value here. Just know going into it that Dream of the Dragon Pool is a duckling rather than a swan.