While the Virgin New Adventures went on past The Dying Days with Bernice Summerfield, it no longer felt like the same range simply because of the protagonist change and the inaugural book in the range, Oh No It Isn’t!, while brilliant, felt incredibly stand alone which made it feel less like the start to a new series and story arc and more like just a special release to see if people would actually continue reading. The second installment, Dragon’s Wrath, while also standalone actually feels more like some character progression is happening and features the return of one character to actually build a character relationship which sets up a lot of what’s going to be happening in future books. Justin Richards pens a tale fully embracing the archeologist nature of Bernice Summerfield as a character, as she is tasked with finding the Gamalian Dragon, a statue from a conqueror of many galaxies. One small problem, the Gamalian Dragon seems to be in Benny’s bag already. And there’s been a murder at St. Oscar’s, of a man who had a rare appointment with one Irving Braxiatel. Setting the book up like this means that Richards can take control of where the range is going and reintroduce audiences to Braxiatel and his chess playing ways. Interestingly, in the audio adaptation from Big Finish Productions, Irving Braxiatel is written out, which makes the adaptation make no sense and barely resemble the book.
The audio adaptation seems to be more readily available as it has been in print for over twenty years and just recently been made available on download, but those who have listened to it perhaps doesn’t have an understanding of what Dragon’s Wrath is. It’s the starting point for the rest of the series: Benny goes on an adventure and gets swept up in a conspiracy to unravel historical truths. Richards’ writes a story where the whole point is examining a period of history and revealing it for the actual truth. The highlight of this book is the interplay between Benny and Braxiatel, a character Richards created for Theatre of War and grew to be one of the more popular Doctor Who spin-off characters after this book. In the Doctor Who books, outside of his introduction, Braxiatel only appeared in The Empire of Glass and Happy Endings prior to this. As with Theatre of War, Braxiatel was responsible for much of the plot occurring and resolving: throughout this book he’s the one nudging Benny in the correct direction based on his own suspicions. Brax is a character who is always one step ahead, but importantly he is charming and keeps bringing Benny closer. Benny, on the other hand, is wrapped up in unraveling the mystery around her. She’s still trying to get over her divorce to Jason and has a slight crush on Nicholas Clyde, a professor of history who accompanies her to see and examine the Dragon. Benny as detective is also an excellent angle to take her character, as the book makes it feel like she is using this expedition as a distraction from everything else going on in her life which allows Richards to really explore her psyche.
This isn’t to say that Dragon’s Wrath isn’t without its problems: it drags quite a bit throughout the middle section and there are points which could be trimmed down here and there, but overall it’s a book which really sets the Benny series in motion. The villain, Romolo Nusek, is an interesting character, but there is a character shift that wasn’t quite there right at the beginning where he is introduced as trying to uncover his family history. There could have been more done to make him either an effective twist villain or an outright villain from the start, as Richards doesn’t really decide if it’s supposed to be a twist. The murder mystery plot also feels just a bit half baked overall, as it almost is just a starting point to get Benny and Braxiatel to have that first conversation which of course is great, but it doesn’t quite connect. The ending, however, is perfect and there is this sense of doom that there will be repercussions to what Brax has done here. 7/10.