I was a big fan of the White Wolf novels released in the 90s to accompany their Vampire: The Masquerade gameline. I enjoyed the Clan Novels starring Lucita, Hesha, Beckett, and the other great characters who starred in them. Helping write these and several other stories was David Niall Wilson who is now the head of Crossroad Press. The opening of this book and others talks about how restricted those parameters were and how much they impeded storytelling.
Heart of a Dragon is the prequel novel to the actual start of the Donovan DeChance series. It follows a gang war between the Dragons Motorcycle Club and Los Escorpiones. The Dragons are thoroughly trounced due to Los Escorpiones' using a witch's corrupted hoodoo to become superhuman. I was actually a little off-put by this opening because I didn't see any reason why I would want to side with the Dragons over the Los Escorpiones. This is where David Niall Wilson lures you in as the actual villain isn't either side of the conflict but the escalating violence and the magic.
Aware they don't have a chance against the superpowered gang members, the Dragons end up seeking a middleman who puts them in touch with seasoned sorcerer-detective Donovan DeChance. Donovan DeChance is a character strongly reminiscent of Doctor Strange and Titus Crow but more on the latter's John Constantine-esque power level. If you played Mage: The Ascension he struck me as an archetypal Order of Hermes operative.
What follows is an entertaining urban fantasy adventure as not only does Dovonan DeChance have to deal with the escalating gang feud but a young boy who has a intimate connection with dragons. The story eventually has its stakes raised to the point Dovonan must work to prevent the world from being invaded by a large number of very angry, very dangerous gods. It's a slow-build interwoven story I have to give them credit for.
The main character of Donovan DeChance is the biggest appeal of the books for me. He is a mysterious gentleman magician who doesn't have much of a backstory but lots of implications to a long and storied past. I hope we'll get more details on who DeChance is in future novels. Heart of a Dragon was written as a prequel so I'm interested in what the first "official" book is going to be like and what it reveals about our protagonist. Alas, my biggest complaint about this novel is that I don't quite grock what motivates Dovonan. What inspired him to become the occult detective par excellence of this world?
I particularly liked the depiction of magic in the setting. Rather than something which obeys partcular laws, it is described as something which is a form of art. It's very much imagination-based and evocative based. Mage: The Ascension never really got into the nitty-gritty of how magick was supposed to work and how different people viewed it but I think the version here is quite interesting to read about.
The supporting cast is a mixture of very good and okay. I'm eager to learn about the pasts of the majority but, as stated, the book really just alludes to their relationships more than describes them. Still, the fictional city of the book is a place which feels authentic and that it has a history even if we don't know it. San Valencez feels like a combination of Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and several other West Coast cities with a strong undercurrent of magic hidden just under the surface.
In conclusion, this is a really good book and one that I enjoyed. It has its downsides in that I think it was sometimes a little too good at obfuscating the pasts of its characters and their feelings but I was entertained throughout. I'm already biting into the next book in the series and am eager to see how it tackles vampires.