It’s funny how things change.
When I set out to write Red Dragon Five, I was largely planning on creating the next installment in the Wolf Dasher series. While it is a direct sequel to State of Grace, it is also a standalone adventure. I wanted the novels to have a specific sequence but also to be able to be read without having gone through the previous one. Thus, I figured Red Dragon Five would have a pretty similar feel to State of Grace.
That turned out to be really wrong.
Red Dragon Five is a really different book. I could feel that as I was writing it, but it became obvious when I read it through and rewrote it. I’ve read it three times now, and I’m fascinated by how different two books featuring the same characters and setting can be.
Firstly are the themes. State of Grace is about patriotism and religious fanaticism. The novel explores what happens when people take their faith — both in God and in their country — to illogical extremes.
The themes in Red Dragon Five, though, are love and family. This book explores the concepts of what it means to be in love with someone who has a dangerous job, how far one should go to protect one’s love, and what it really means to be part of a family. That alone creates a very different book than the first one.
The nature of the plots also differentiate the two books. State of Grace concerns a coup attempt, and there is the implied threat of a ticking clock throughout the novel. One constantly has the feeling that if Wolf doesn’t figure things out soon, a disaster will occur.
But in Red Dragon Five, Wolf goes undercover with the bad guys early on. He knows more or less what is happening and is looking for the right opportunity to stop it. In fact, he spends a good portion of the novel either trapped behind enemy lines and forced to maintain his cover, or choosing to continue the charade longer to see what else he can learn.
The politics in the two books are different as well. In the first, there is a sense that things can be resolved diplomatically if people will really try. In the second book, that hope is a lot less evident. May Honeyflower despairs as Alfar’s coalition government continually argues over minutiae instead of dealing with the larger issues.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is the difference in the point of view of the protagonist. In State of Grace, Wolf is the vehicle through which the reader comes to know Alfar. He is exploring it for the first time too, and we get his point of view as we learn how this strange world works. There is an innocence to Wolf’s perception of the conflicts, since he is not previously familiar with them.
In Red Dragon Five, he’s been in Alfar for seven months. He’s stopped a major coup and been hunting for the operational director of the country’s most notorious terrorist cell. He’s more jaded, and he’s frustrated at his lack of success. That drives him to make several tactical errors.
Likewise, May is frustrated by her government’s lack of will. She knows what needs to be done, but her efforts at making it happen are constantly rebuffed. Only a massacre can move the ministers to do something about escalating sectarian violence, and May is incensed because, if they’d acted when she asked, it could have been prevented.
Red Dragon Five is a moodier novel than State of Grace. It hints that things will not get better but will get much worse. On the other hand, love is a powerful force in the narrative. It drives May and Wolf to protect each other, and it twists the villain into a deformed mess driven by vengeance.
Red Dragon Five is a very different novel from State of Grace, and I’m really excited about that. I’m hoping each of the novels in the series has a separate feel to it. That’ll make the whole thing richer than I originally imagined.