It took a year, but I finally found my way back to the Age of Fire series by E. E. Knight. Dragon Avenger follows Dragon Champion, a book that I thought was fantastic and refreshing, despite a few cringe worthy moments near the end that I could have done without. While it’s a sequel, it takes place during the same timeline as the previous book, this time focusing on Auron’s sister, Wistala. The first few chapters follow the exact same story, although from Wistala’s point of view, and I enjoyed seeing how he approached it from her eyes. Once the two are forcefully split up, the adventure becomes officially hers.
I’m still reading the trade paperback editions. They have a great look and feel to them.
Where Auron’s story rarely gave the reader a chance to breathe, Wistala’s feels more like a meditation. She spends most of her time in the village of Mossbell running errands for the elf, Rainfall, who rescues her after the loss of her father. Wistala begins dead set on avenging him and her family (hence the title) but as she grows up in Mossbell, it feels like the desire dwindles. Perhaps it was because of her focus on other tasks, but it felt like the middle section of the book weakened the tension and drama that the beginning set up. I began to wonder if any avenging would even happen. It finally did and was mostly satisfying, in particular how she took the high road in one case, though overall it felt tacked on more than a necessity after what came prior.The first book suffered from a less than satisfying victory as well. After an enormous set up and wanting nothing but the worst for a certain character, I remember being underwhelmed at what happened.
I would like to be able to say that the slower pace of the novel lends to more character development, but ironically I felt like I knew Auron better at the end of his story. Wistala’s growth often happens off screen, so a page or paragraph later she’s learned something new, often something major, and that’s now how she is. It can be hard to really grasp her character. I would have liked to have seen her pick up the elves’ language more gradually in the narrative, along with “parl,” the universal language used by all of the humanoid races. This particular aspect made me wonder again how I was going to handle a similar situation in my current work, where characters are immersed exclusively in a language and culture that’s foreign to them. The challenge comes from a believable period of learning without plodding down the story.
I’m still confused at the notion that this series is good for younger readers. There is some horrifically cruel and graphic material at times. And while it was far less here compared to the first book, it’s still there. Wistala’s barely harmed, but the worst happens to others, and the world seems filled sociopaths. The worst that happens to Wistala comes in a satisfying moment when she’s needing her wings freed and has someone assist her in cutting them out early. Dragons in this series aren’t born with their wings. They come in like antlers on a deer as they age. But as far as others hurting her, there’s nothing to mention. Her brother seemed to get abused on every page, including losing his tail more than once (it grew back.) That was the tamest of it.
Wistala seems more human than her brother. I credit this to circumstance, since he was on his own in the wild, giving into his true nature, whereas Wistala grew up with elves and took on the demeanor and habits of those around her. She even learns to pull back her lips to simulate a human smile. The way she speaks and her thought process feel more human as well and there were times I could have easily just imagined her as a human (or elf) girl with no real change to how the character felt. This would have been less jarring without memories of Auron’s adventure. Eventually Auron did find a library and began reading and learning and calming a bit, but most of his growth was savage.
There are few dragons this time around. She does find one stray one later, whose mental and physical attributes are described as unappealing as possible and makes one wonder if dragons in this world are even worth saving. She also runs into a small group of them isolated from the rest of the world and with no desire to leave their sanctuary. They try to get her to stay and breed but she soon abandons them, returning to Mossbell. I had fears this location was the same as the final destination of Auron’s tale, a place that disgusted me. Something about it felt familiar, but if it was, Wistala wasn’t there long enough to find out.
E.E. Knight’s writing and world development are still top notch. He immerses the reader, and while I didn’t feel quite “in” the world as much in this book, he’s still far better than most authors I’ve read. He stimulates all of the senses that words on a page (or screen) can. I like the mythologies from the different races, both dragons and hominids. I like the different cultures. And I like how not all of one race is the same. All of this makes his world realistic and organic.
So while Dragon Avenger did feel much different than the previous book, it was still a good read. I look forward to the rest of the series at some point. For now, it’s time for the sequel to one of my favorite books from the past few years. Finally got it.