At one point, Graham Edwards’s Dragoncharm made me tremble. A book hasn’t had such an emotional effect on me since Novik’s Throne of Jade two years ago where I ended up losing five hours of sleep so I could finish the book and put my nerves to rest. I first heard of Dragoncharm a few months back while doing a search for dragon centric novels to help me get a feel for how other authors handle them. This was all in hopes of aiding my own work that has a dragon lead. I searched for the novel at every book store in the area, but sadly no one had it, and so I did what normal people do nowadays and went to Amazon. The newest edition of the book was unavailable with a message that they had no idea when it ever would be. Discouraging; disappointing. Then I saw they had the original edition from the mid 90s, and I could buy it new starting at about $115. Starting at. Fortunately they had sellers with used copies for far less and with shipping I finally managed to get a copy of the original print for around the price of a new book today.

I prefer the older cover design by Paul Youll. The dragon seems more fitting to how they’re described in the book and it has raised font that I’m a sucker for. The dragon image is raised too and in some places you can feel individual scales and bony ridges. It’s a nice touch. Sadly the edges of my cover are starting to peel.

Dragoncharm’s cast is almost exclusively dragons. According to the author’s website, the idea came from the classic Watership Down where all of the characters are rabbits, and he wanted to try it with fantasy creatures. Dragons were a great choice. There are a few other beings, but no humans to be found. A brief scene has fairies and trolls are enormous beings of the earth. Literally, they are the land in places. Toward the end is the basilisk, a creepy pale creature older than time itself, who usually prefers to watch, but by the end begins to leech on others, manipulating them. Otherwise everyone’s a dragon. Here what I found an interesting variation is there are two kinds of dragons. There are the Naturals, who are beings that could exist in the real world. They still have only four limbs, with their wings connected like bats. Their bones are hollow to aid in flight. Then there are the magical dragons known as the Charmed, who can alter their form (sometimes into genuinely grotesque horrors) and whose wings are more for show than function. They use magic to fly. As magic in the world weakens they’re slowly going mad. It’s sad to watch. The weaker Naturals fear the Charmed, some of which give them good reason, and this tension forms the main source of conflict in the book. It’s a story of blind prejudice and friendship, all wrapped up in an end of the world plot.

Usually prologues in stories tend to be akin to previews at the theater. They’re short and a necessary evil before getting to the main event (unless you’re one of those people who go see a movie only for a certain trailer.) The prologue in this story did it right, giving emotional investment in some of the characters from the beginning. I had to wipe a tear at the end.

The characters are all wonderfully portrayed with depth and heart. Edwards knows has to toy with your emotions. Even the two main antagonists draw out sympathies if you’re paying attention, as terrible as they can be. The lead dragon, Fortune, has to grow up quickly as he’s pulled on his quest by a Charmed named Cumber to stop everyone from slaughtering each other. Fortune falls for another, and while it seemed their love came a touch fast, it might just be how dragons are. Another pair grew on each other quickly too, though in an amusing moment, both were too shy to say anything.

Fortune’s childhood friend, Wood, who I continually wished the best for, has to choose between him and his father when they take different sides. The agonizing nature of it is that his father is burned almost to his death by a Charmed, and then Wood is slowly twisted with propaganda into thinking Fortune is his enemy. Another Natural, Brace, has a similar conflict as he hates the Charmed, loves his sister, but she defends those who he opposes. It’s a joy watching him grow up.

One of the antagonists, a Natural named Shatter, grew up in forced isolation. We never find out why, but for a while I wondered if it was their fault or because he was bad from the start. Shatter certainly has no problems killing them and even infants to gain what he wants. The second “bad guy,” Wraith, is a black Charmed dragon with extra limbs making him look like a spider. I was hoping for a fight between these two, but the conclusion was still satisfying.

I like how there’s good and bad in both sides, and everyone’s arguments can be understood whether one can agree with them or not. Fortune even mentions this when trying to convince a Natural friend that the Charmed aren’t all the monsters they’ve been led to believe. He admits that those he defends can do wrong, but so can everyone. He even has his moments of weakness that have negative consequences.

The narrative at times can be rough as Edwards’s writing is full of mixed metaphor, and at times, sentences extended with chains of propositions. This can make understanding magical events, in particular early on, difficult. The Aether’s Cross section of the story bogs down from it. Here it begins jumping to new characters as well. It can be disorienting, but once through the early middle point of the story it all comes together quickly. The last 200 pages had me gripped. I finished the second half of the book in two days and was left with so much to think about and discuss. The story leaves events up to interpretation in a positive way. That’s a great a feeling. It’s unfortunate that there’s no where to do it since the book is buried deep under mainstream works.

Edwards’s site mentions that at one point a TV mini series was planned for the book. It’s a shame it never came to light, though I’m not sure how it would have looked with mid  90s CG technology.

Dragoncharm has its moments of clumsiness, but that can be forgiven by memorable, emotionally rich characters and an engaging story. If you like dragons and can actually find the book, I highly recommend it.

Now for something horrifying before Halloween month is over.

****/*****

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