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The Elvenbane

When I read a novel by multiple authors, I often find myself wondering who wrote what and just how they worked. The first time I tried writing a novel it was with a coauthor, and what we did was email the file back and forth, adding and editing as we went. Since Norton and Lackey’s The Elvenbane was released a few years before the internet, I’m guessing it didn’t quite go that way. I’m not familiar with Andre Norton’s other works, but I did notice some Lackeyisms: her knowledge of birds, use of magical traps, and near comically evil characters.

I bought the sequel to The Elvenbane back before I knew it was a series. It was on the clearance rack at a Books-a-Million back in the 90s. I remember getting it while on a trip to Disney. I’m not sure why we were sidetracked at bookstores, but we were. The sole reason I got it is because it had an awesome cover, and I do believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for appealing cover art. I was all ready for a dragon story, a story that the cover promised. I read a few pages at our hotel but then lost interest. I think at that point I realized that it was indeed a sequel and didn’t want to get too deep into without reading the first. It’d been sitting on my book shelf ever since.

I was reminded that it was a series when I saw part 3 at a used bookstore a few months ago. Judging from it it looked like there might be some good human/dragon interaction, something I’ve always looked for to help me with my own novel and enjoy anyway. I looked for part 1. They had it. It was paperback. I’d already unintentionally committed to hardback due to my first purchase. Can’t stand having a series that isn’t all the same format. I finally had to order it online.

Even after finishing the book, I have no idea who that dragon is. The girl is easy, but the dragon? No. They’re described as being different colors than that, plus larger.

It’s a decently long story. If you have the paperback it’s topping five hundred pages. My hardback was 390 with plenty of words per page. It’s also slow. A third of the book passes before the main story even happens. Up until then its full of flashbacks and a character who we’ll never see again. It would have flowed better and been more interesting if the story started with Shana’s birth (red headed girl on the cover.) Any information given in the beginning could have been left a mystery that she had to learn about. She still does, but since we already know, it seems excess.

So the real story begins with Shana’s birth where she’s taken in by a dragon who’s about to birth a daughter of her own. It’s a take on the old Jungle Book theme with a human being raised by another kind. And while we’ve all seen it before, the authors make it interesting with an element I would have annoyed me in most contexts.

The dragons can shape shift. That’s up there with telepathy in my book of magical cop outs. Oh, yeah, the dragons can do that too.

But since they can change form, including taking a human form, Shana grows up thinking she too is a dragon, only stuck as a human (or in her case, a half elf, half human.) Of course when the secret gets out that she really isn’t a dragon, everything blows up. Her adoptive mother certainly never bothered to let her in on the secret. I do like her, but often I debated if she could be considered a bad mother. This is in particular since her real daughter is a vile little creature who seems to be neglected throughout the book. She eventually ends up getting taken in by another dragon who’s equally unpleasant. I kept wanting to see her get better, but it never happened. That might be one of those Lackey touches where if someone’s going evil, there’s no saving them. It’s frustrating.

Also frustrating came from the way of a forced relationship. Well, a relationship actually never happened, but I could feel one or both of the authors trying their hardest to bring Shana together with someone else later in the book. Maybe that happens in the sequels, I don’t know, but it never felt right. It didn’t help that there was another character that Shana had great chemistry with and who we hear over and over that when they’re together it just feels right, and how happy and content the other party is being with her. All that set up and I feel the authors were determined to avoid it.

Those complaints aside, I really did enjoy most of the characters. It’s fun watching Shana grow up and discover her powers (hybrids have very strong magic, which is why she ends up being such a big deal to the elves who want no one to threaten their dominance.) Kemen, her adoptive dragon brother, was just darling and warmed up every scene he was in. He needed to be in there more. Valyn seemed to be much deeper than was let on and it’s always a pleasure to see someone stand up to their own kind when they know they’re wrong. Several of the minor characters thankfully had their own personalities. The villains weren’t too interesting other than Triana, a witch of sorts who we only see briefly near the end in a side plot. It isn’t really needed other than to make Valyn look like a failure.

It was a good read, just slow and frustrating at times. I do want to read the sequels just to see what happens with my favorite characters, but I don’t feel compelled to quite yet. I have a lot of new books I want to get to this year, but I’ll come back to the series eventually. It’s just a shame that it’ll never be complete since Andre Norton has passed away. I fear getting to the end of book 3 to find a cliffhanger.

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New blogs coming soon

I’ve found myself unexpectedly busy preparing for my health and life insurance license. The amount of material to learn is overwhelming, and the state exam is designed to fail you. Hopefully soon that’ll be behind me.

I did finish a new book today and have a few other ideas for some posts here. Stay tuned.

I had a friend in college who was a huge fan of this book and Douglas Adams’s writing in general. It bordered on the obsession some Monty Python fans have for a certain holy grail based movie. He even tried to write a story in the same style. I never really “got it” so eventually I bought the book and gave it a shot.

I read a few chapters. Still didn’t get it. Returned it to my shelf. A decade past.

Needing something lighthearted and quick after that last emotionally draining book, I decided to give Hitchhiker another shot. Honestly, I still don’t quite get it. At least I’m not rapidly into it like some people (and if you love it, that’s perfectly fine.)

The late Douglas Adams’s humor is odd. It’s a mix of honest bluntness toward the silliness of society and goofy descriptions, including names. One such example is one of our “heros,” Zaphod Beeblebrox. You just can’t say that name without some sort of facial muscle twitching. I certainly see his humor, and overall the story is likable, it just isn’t for me so much.

But what did I like about it?

Marvin, the chronically depressed robot, is hilarious. I wanted more of him. He didn’t seem to have much point in the book, but how he (it?) could be a downer about anything, even being saved from doom, was terrifically amusing.

Dolphins.

The cover. I have the Ballantine books edition from 1995 with raised font.

What are those floating easter eggs and what do they have to do with this book?

I know now where babel fish comes from. Always thought that was an odd name for a translation site. But now it all makes sense.

Much of the dialogue is amusing. It’s quick and matter of fact. I think it’d work very well as a play.

It’s short. I could have read it in a day if I wanted. Some books these days are getting painfully long. I’m a man, I don’t like to commit unless it’s worth it.

The planet building civilization was an interesting concept. I wonder if it’s explored more in the sequels.

After a decade when sci-fi had a surge in popularity, Adams delightfully skewers its staples.

The +10 to my geek stat for reading.

Otherwise it didn’t get much of a rise out of me. So while I don’t know if I’ll read the others, the book is very hard to dislike. I enjoyed finally having exposure to all of those pop culture things I’d either vaguely understood or didn’t get at all. Thank you, forty-two. After all, that is the answer to life’s greatest questions.

Dragon Champion

Auron, the lead dragon in E. E. Knight’s first Age of Fire novel, takes more abuse than Jesus in the hands of Mel Gibson. He gets stabbed in the lung, his throat cut, his tail amputated, and other little prickles that after a while must be to him no more than nuisances. His mother warns him about how his scaleless hide leaves him vulnerable, but one has to wonder if these dragons have unnatural healing powers from how much he survives. What he goes through is painful to watch, and by the end I felt like I’d been tied to a pole for days while getting sprayed in the face with a fire hose every few minutes. And yet I enjoyed it enough to finish in less than four days.

That’s quick for me.

Auron’s survival instincts drive much of the violence, a unique angle for fantasy literature. From the beginning Auron hatches and kills his clutch brother, crippling the other before he gets away. This happens in all dragon clutches. The males won’t tolerate another in their presence. I didn’t care for that one bit, and after reading the first chapter, it was enough to send the book back to my shelf for two years, but it does set the tone that these dragons aren’t going to play by our rules. They have their own morality.

(Thankfully, as Auron grows, he believes it to be a problem. In a world where dragons are dwindling, having part of the clutch end up dead from the beginning doesn’t matters.)

Yes, to dive into Auron’s world, you have to accept a different set of rules. These dragons are intelligent, but of a different intelligence brought on by how they’ve evolved in their world. Auron has to kill to eat and he doesn’t discriminate. An unfortunate deer is just as much food as a child who strayed too far from safety. Yes, he eats children. I know that’s put some people off, but I’m glad Knight had the courage to do that.

It’s a joy watching Auron grow and learn about his world. At first all is new and overwhelming; leaving his birth cave for the first time feels so wrong. He’s controlled heavily by his instincts, but as he ages we see more thought and understanding. Reasoning develops. Throughout the book he’s hunted by all forms of humanoids: humans, dwarfs, elves, and blighters, a rather trollish race of the author’s creation. At first it seems all men are the enemy, though once Auron finds the bravery to approach some of them, we realize they’re as varied as in real life.  There’s good and bad all around. Knight has created a mythology explaining why the different races, dragons included, behave to one another as they do, though not everyone subscribes to that.

I enjoyed the friendships he made. This includes some animals. He learns how they speak and even joins a wolf pack for a while, ironically after slaughtering several of them.

Did I mention this book is bloody?

One friendship in particular I enjoyed, though I ended up highly disappointed at what became of it. Knight keeps hinting at something that would have been immensely satisfying, but never lets it go there. For all the stones he has, he dropped them with this plot thread. Auron gets something he wants eventually, but to me it was a let down. Yes, I was happy for him, but it’s like if someone told me we were getting Thai for dinner but at the last second we end up having Chinese instead. Sure, it’ll be good, but disappointing in comparison.

The story moves quickly, and while there is little time to stop and admire the scenery, Knight gives the reader just enough to feel a part of the world. This relates to the environment as well as the characters. When Auron’s wings finally come in, you can feel your own back itching and smell the pus and fluids gushing from his. Your gut’ll hurt when his talons disembowel someone. Crushing a severely burnt man sounds, and even feels like stepping on a cicada husk.

Terrible things happen to good people. It’s emotionally taxing to get attached to anyone.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many good characters brutalized or killed. Knight wins the award for most cringe moments in one novel. As sensitive as I can be, I actually enjoyed his honesty in showing what he did; like in the real world, terrible things can happen to the best of people. The violence excites something deep in the reptile brain; the surrounding action excites and engages. He can do this while still affecting the heart (I’m surprised Auron wasn’t stabbed there . . .)

I handled it all well until a scene near the end that was a bit too much. I was shaking and lost my appetite for a few days and wanted to go out and scream. It was a combination of defenselessness, enjoyed cruelty, unbelievable disrespect, the nature of the character involved, and the fact that Auron’s reaction was so subdued. I know in part he was having to put on an act, but a little rage at the least would have eased the pain. You want your protagonist to feel what you’re feeling. A certain son-of-a-bitch could have had a more satisfying death for that matter, especially after what we had seen up until then. As much of a peacenik as I am, Knight made me want blood. Or worse. All of this was after a prior revelation that had me rather upset. I’ll just say the animosity male dragons have for one other played a big part here. If Knight wanted the final setting to be a nightmare, he succeeded.

After Auron escapes there were two quick scenes that could have worked better in reverse order. It’s like Knight never wanted us to get a chance to relax. Here and there it’s okay to take your foot off the gas. There are a few scenes in the middle that ease up the pace. He had me craving more. Moments of comfort would have made the whole more satisfying. You cherish the ones you get even more when they’re rare. Maybe that’s what he wanted.

Overall I really did enjoy the novel. Even the one shot characters were great, like the sea turtle and vulture. As I wait on the sequel to come in the mail (our Barnes and Noble had the whole series but that one) I’ve picked up another book, but it feels wrong. I need to be back in this story’s world. It seems so much larger than what one book can give you. I might just set it down and wait. My nerves could use a few more days to cool down anyway.

I’m glad this series is published in trade paperbacks. I’m spoiled. I’m getting them all in that format, even though they cost twice as much. It’s a good thing Santa brought me a Barnes and Noble gift card. The covers are excellent too:

Enjoy watching this guy get turned into a pin cushion, you sadists.

It’ll probably be more of the same with his sister in the next book.

The Last Battle

No, this isn’t the Narnia book, despite my last post. I’m talking about Chris Bunch’s novel, though I could understand the confusion. Both are the final volumes of a series and both are about battles that are . . .last? But seriously, they have little in common.

I had strong feelings about this novel as I read it that were turned upside after the final page. It turns out that Bunch wrote this at the end of his life and passed away a year before its publication in 2006. It greatly affected how I interpreted the final line of the series. I won’t spoil it, but I will say our hero’s final wish may have mirrored the author’s after a lifetime of writing fantasy series and for television.

Again, I dislike beginning a series anywhere other than the beginning, but I found it in a bargain bin at Books-a-Million for 75% off, so I said, eh, why not? Getting a cheap book from a series that I had no prior plans to read was worth starting late. My copy is the trade paperback that I so love; as I learned last week, that’s the term for larger format paperbacks. If I can ever get published I’d love to have my work printed this way. It’s so much easier to hold and see the text.

Nice cover art. And since you’re wondering, yes, that’s part of why I picked it up.

The story features Hal, the dragon master, and his dragon, Storm. Hal’s grown bored with life with the wars over and begins looking for his own action. Eventually a nightmare leads him to a distant land covered in demons who are taking the form of dragons. It doesn’t help that they’re killing real dragons.

The dragons in these books are intelligent, but not quite on our level. They seem more like a border collie or parrot upstairs. There’s no talking sadly, though even without being on the level of a human, Storm has plenty of personality. The other real dragons aren’t seen enough to get to know, but I’m sure they’re just lovely (and bitey.)

I get the feeling that most of the character development was done in the first two books. Understandable, and part of why I dislike starting late. Here the action takes off and then ends three hundred pages later without much growth or background for the characters. Hal does reevaluate what he wants in life, and at the end he does change (considering Bunch may be speaking through him, it was rather sad.) It’d be nice to see how he and the others initially developed though.

My initial criticism of the book was that the paragraphs were so short. I remember pages where they were single sentences and at times only a few words. I’m not saying I need an author to go on and on and on, but it takes simplicity to an extreme. That can work well for an affect at times, but while reading I felt Bunch had nothing to say and was hurrying to the end. I began to wonder if a picky editor did this, but after reading of his passing, I also wondered if he truly was trying to get it finished quickly. I have to let it slide here.

Bunch was retired military and reviews of this series have mentioned that he used historical battle strategies throughout. The three kingdoms also represent England, France, and Germany. That may be of interest to history buffs, though I admittedly don’t remember too much of my war history. Now I wish I did. The faux dragon battles at the end were rather enjoyable.

The Last Battle was forgettable from a story standpoint, but remember from the shock after the book had ended. It’d certainly be best to begin this series from the beginning. I think I would have gotten more out of the characters if I knew them better. I might read the first two sometime. We’ll see.

For now I wish everyone a happy new year. I look forward to new adventures and bringing my experiences to everyone. I’ll be sure to get to some movies this coming year too.

Cheers!

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

C.S Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has been part of my life for over twenty years. My sister, of all people, handed the book to me at yet another long out of business book store. She insisted it was really good and even then I liked stories with magic in them (I blame video games and Disney) so I took her up on it. It cost my parents a mere $2.95. I still have it, as well as the other six. The price aside, you can tell my edition is old since it’s still book 1. Now days, the old book 6, The Magician’s Nephew, comes first. This is likely due to wanting the timeline to go in order since TMN is when Aslan created Narnia.

My Collier Books edition has a lovely cover by Roger Hane. It’s an image that’s been part of my visual memory since I first saw it.

Up through about third grade, my father would often read me bed time stories. The Narnia books became part of that tradition. I never actually read any of them when I was a child, but do remember them all thanks to him. It wasn’t until last week when I actually read the whole book myself. It’s easily something that could be done in a day if one had nothing else to do, but it feels good to have actually done it after all these years.

My third grade teacher was a big fan of the Narnia series as well. She was talking to me once and somehow it got out that I was familiar, and next thing I know she’s offering the class extra credit for reading any of them. We watched both the old animated movie of TLTW&TW and the made for TV movie that I think was done by the BBC, but I can’t say for sure. They did the next two books as well, but I don’t think it ever went past that.

I’ve not seen the newer movie, but maybe I shall just to see what they did with the material.

After reading as an adult, I do consider the possibility that Lucy and her siblings have wonderful imaginations and this is an escapist fantasy. They seem rather glum having been sent away from their family for schooling, and people are coming in and out of this home they’re in all day that they don’t care for. I’m probably wrong that Narnia only exists in their heads, but it’s fun to think about anyway. The situation certainly isn’t as terrible and nightmarish as something like Pan’s Labyrinth. I don’t remember enough of the series to say if there are ever any mixings of Narnia and the real world.

C.S. Lewis writes this book as a storyteller. There are several interjections as though speaking to an audience. One can easily see him reading from his favorite chair while surrounded by a group of children. It’s charming. Lewis had a real love for stories and children and it shows. While it was written for children (even says so inside) it’s still easily enjoyable by an adult. Like any good writer for a younger audience, Lewis doesn’t talk down to his readers and has good messages beneath the action. There’s depth to his work that resonates years later.

 

Dragon Keeper

Robin Hobb’s Dragon Keeper is a long trek to no where.  However to be fair, it’s a gorgeous, immersive one with strong characters, even if I do get a sense that the author has a thing against men. Sadly, despite the title and cover, the dragons are only a small part of the immediate action.

Since there’s no where else to stick it in this blog, here’s the book, complete with its raised text:

The publisher only want you to think the above scene happens.

When I bought this I thought I was buying the sequel, though I didn’t know the sequel was a sequel. I saw the hard back hogging shelf space at Barnes and Noble and after tip toeing around the glowing review fragments, I was intrigued by the similarities to my own work. For some reason dragons are hatching sick and deformed, a shell of their former selves, and since their presence around men is such a pain (they do complain constantly and aren’t afraid to eat people,) a plan is devised to move them from where they’ve been stuck for too long. Those enslaved to, I mean put in charge of moving them, are humans born with reptilian mutations, like scales and claws. Some are worse than others. Usually these people are disposed of at birth as no one wants them around trying to pollute humanity by breeding with those who are normal. So what better plan than to send both them and dragons far away? Maybe the dragons will even eat them.

I read the prologue before I even bought the book. Hobb has an artful handle on our language. It’s not in a “look at how clever I am” way, but she knows the right words to use to get subtle changes in emotion from the reader. She draws you into every scene and environment. As an example, it’s the difference between a “sizzling steak” and a “cooking steak.” The former you can really feel. That’s something I strive to do with my serious work.

The dragons in this book begin life as sea serpents. Eventually they have to cocoon themselves to develop into true dragons, but this is where their development goes wrong. Why is a mystery. They’re further angry because their queen, who promised to return to help them, is missing. They’re intelligent and can speak, though don’t really care to talk to humans. An aspect of their lives that at first horrified me, then intrigued me with its possibilities, is that they gain the memories of other dragons by eating each other. Not alive, thankfully, but anytime one of them perishes there’s a rush to feast on the flesh. Any one dragon could have memories of many others. It’s nearly a collective consciousness. I want to see if anything useful comes from it in the sequel.

As interesting as I found the dragons, unfortunately if one is opening this book looking for great percentage of dragon material, they’ll be let down. There’s that fantastic opening scene, then we get a few sparse bits in the middle, then the last fifth of the book pulls them into the active plot. It’s about five hundred pages of others talking about dragons, but keeping them in the background. The bits we get serve to show how unpleasant they are to each other, and in the end how little most humans think of them.

The good news is Hobb does character very well, so even the humans are fun to read. I could have enjoyed the book even if we never saw the dragons. Most of the story focuses on two female leads. There’s Alise, who’s dreamed her whole life about studying dragons. Her only opportunity to do this comes from marrying a wealthy trader named Hest, who turns out to be a frighteningly dickish antagonist, and of course doesn’t react too well to being reminded that he has to let his wife run off to chase childish fantasies without having given him an heir yet. Their sex is terrible. He really knows how to pull the victim card when accused of being a terrible mate too. His servant for a while is Alise’s only friend, and I did like him for most of the book, but he ends up being a bit of a heartless wimp when his affections are on the line. The other female is Thymara, one of the mutated humans. Her mother likes to pretend she doesn’t exist. Her father is dealing with regrets at saving her. So, to solve their problems, she gets sent off on this mission to move the dragons. She meets other mutants (while the reader is still waiting on dragons) and I did like most of these new characters, including one who’s plenty creepy in his desire to be with Thymara and drive a wedge between her and her friend, Tats. So, another male who appears to exist to use women. Really, does Robin Hobb hate men?

I’m not complaining as much as it may sound. I’m simply amused at what seems to be a trend. Hobb does take the more realistic approach where all characters have their good and bad sides. They’re deep and well written, and thankfully we don’t have to suffer through any internal monologue where someone’s talking about how evil they are and what evil things they’re going to do. I’ve had enough of that for the year. The dragons seem like dragons too, not men in dragon suits. They’re fascinating (even with their unpleasantness) and I hope in the next book we get more of them. They are in a terrible situation: deformed, dying, living in their own filth, and suffering with memories of a better life lost long in the past. It’s no wonder they come off the way they do.

If I had one issue with the book (other than wanting more dragons) it’s that it just stops, and right after a long, drawn out scene that was painful to watch. I was almost ill afterward. It’s like someone just cut the book in half. Oh wait, that is what happened. The book was originally twice as long, but it was cut into two novels instead. So, the sequel is really just the rest of this. It would have been a 1,000 page novel otherwise. I’ve never seen a book simply stop like this one. Sometimes an ending will be abrupt, but this is like bungee jumping and your chord was too long.

Dragons of Winter Night

You can tell my copy of this book is old because even the Canadian price is several dollars less than a new paperback today. I bought it in 7th grade during the winter, and at a now out of business Waldenbooks that turned into a TGI Fridays. It’s probably a Starbucks now. Haven’t been in that area in years. The old Waldenbooks was a shallow bookstore, but the shelves were high. It was one of those places where you couldn’t even see what was up top (and that’s saying a lot since I’m almost six and a half feet.) They had those rolling ladders that went along the shelves and the register was a kiosk in the middle of the store. There was no coffee shop or membership card, and certainly no Kindle and its kin. They just had books and magazines.

I mentioned in a previous entry that I’m a sucker for cover art, and that’s the whole reason I bought this one, other than looking for a dragon story. If anything picking the book up again reminded me of Larry Elmore’s art. He does such amazing fantasy work, in particular his dragons, and he’s the only reason I became interested in drawing them myself. It was the closest thing to being high a twelve year old kid could legally experience. From browsing Amazon, the new editions are done by someone else, but my cover looks like this:

Just with text.

That dragon is bad ass. I can’t say so much for his ambiguously gendered friends, but he’s awesome. It’s funny how the dragon’s gender is easier to guess than the humanoid characters. It’s got to be a he. Right? I also can’t count how many times I’ve seen that same dragon copied by artists on the internet trying to draw one.

I don’t remember why this was, but that year I slept in my parents’ room. We had an extra guest bed with a brass railing. It was like that bed from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but it didn’t take me to a magic cartoon land. I remember having the book there and reading bits of it. There was a convenient set of shelves built into the wall right next to it so I could leave my things there, and this included all of my Nintendo Powers. I was admittedly a bad reader then. It wasn’t a comprehension issue. It was simply that I skimmed and skipped freely, looking for the “good” parts in most anything I read. Up until my teenage years, there was little I actually read all the way through. Some books I skipped huge sections. This is probably why I didn’t remember a thing about Dragons of Winter Night (aka DOWN) other than some of the prechapter drawings.

I learned this time that the plot involves a mixed group of your typical fantasy races like elves and dwarfs looking for this magic dragon orb that’ll give them the power to control the dragons that are being used to take over the land of Krynn. I understand the books are based on the Dungeons and Dragons games that I never played–it seemed all the kids doing this were smoking pot–but even then it sure feels like I’m reading someone’s extended roleplaying session. In particular a group of teenagers who think they’re more clever than they really are. The authors Weis and Hickman have their moments, but overall the writing’s about the quality you’d get from a decent high school writer. I tried writing a book in my late teens. This only sounds marginally better. Judging from the professional and fan reviews over at Amazon, I must have read a different book.

To be fair, I’m sure I would have better understood the characters and their motivations if I had read the previous book. This is part two of three. But even then I never felt fully into any of the protagonists. For the most part they lacked depth, and there are so many characters who end up scattered in so many places it’s difficult for a newcomer to keep track of who’s who. I did like Tanis, the half human, half elf, and what he had to deal with from both sides because of this, along with his perceived history with one of the dragon lords, Kitiara. She (guessing that’s her on the cover) was far and away the strongest character in the book, but she was only there for a few brief moments. More like her and it could have been much better. There was just so little development for anyone I was supposed to care about. It felt like the characters were there to be game pieces and just move along to their goal.

That’s a shame because I would have liked to know more about them. This extends to dragons. We see early on that they’re intelligent. They can talk. They have their own thoughts. But do we ever learn anything about any of them? No, other than they’re apparently deserving to be wiped out completely. It began with promise as we see one of the blue dragons, Skie, showing us how he sees the world, but after that one scene he never says another thing. We don’t even see him again until nearly 400 pages later, and at that point the book’s over. I really wanted to know more about at least him, dangit. At least Kitiara treats him well. It makes me wonder what about them is supposed to be so evil. Yes, they’ve burned down cities, but in war these things happen. I’m supposed to hate these characters, but I felt rather sorry for them, especially two dragons who were horrifically slayed near the end. At least one of the protagonists was as repulsed as I felt, though it seemed like a chance for a forced bit of morality. It didn’t feel that natural, especially with someone’s actions in the following scene.

Kitiara was too fair (hell, she gave someone back her weapon who was wanting to kill her) to really come off as evil. The dragons did nothing to seem evil. Any negative act was caused by someone else’s direction. You can’t have empathy for each other and be evil. So, I have a hard time buying that they are, despite what I’m told. I have to wonder if there’s intentional vagueness about it, despite that being a modern trend (this book’s from the 80s,) or if it’s just a failure on the authors’ part. I honestly feel confused and let down.

Despite disappointments, and that I can’t really recommend it unless you loved the first book, I am happy I finally finished DOWN. It was a change of pace to read a more traditional fantasy. I’m almost wanting to read the next book to see how the characters I did like develop. Maybe some other day though since I’m not counting on it.

Did I mention it had awesome cover art?

 

Dragon’s Ring

David Freer’s Dragon’s Ring is one of those books that makes me thankful for the internet. Otherwise I never would have heard of it. One day I was looking around for dragon centric books and saw it deep in the list. I’d never heard of the author and never seen the book at any stores. It took several before I managed to find it once I actually looked. Books a Million had it. I hope they don’t pull a Borders on me.

I admit I’m a sucker for cool cover art, and Dragon’s Ring has it.

This makes Chuck Norris feel like a pansy.

And a note to authors: If your book has a cool cover, I’m probably going to buy it. I’m also proud to say that after reading, the spine is still in mint condition. Other than the cover, I was intrigued by the plot synopsis. Fionn, a black dragon, tries to destroy the world and manipulates the only magic using human, who conveniently doesn’t know she has any powers, to do so.  What results is a quest to find (i.e. steal) these magic artifacts that’ll give him the power he needs to do so. The girl, Meb, whom Fionn he calls “Scrap,” is taken along for the ride on an adventure that is full of Alice in Wonderland logic, where strange things happen and all of the characters around her treat it so matter-of-factly that it’s both bizarre and comical; there were ample chuckle worthy lines, often as a result of Meb’s fish out of water situation.  Fionn is a naughty little ruffian too, unafraid to do what he needs to get his way, even smack around the other dragons. You never feel he’s going to fail easily, and that’s fun.

But if he’s trying to destroy the world, how could we ever root for him? you ask. Oh, he has a reason, but I won’t spoil it.

The story and its characters develop well. Watching how Fionn and Meb begin to grow together is rewarding. It’s always good to see a character who can kick so much tail end up being vulnerable in other ways. There’s a point where Fionn almost has to admit he likes Meb, but fears ruining everything if he tells her what’s really going on. She doesn’t even know he’s a dragon, much less what he’s trying to do. Fionn switches in and out of a human form, and ordinarily this would have ruined the book for me, but it’s handled well here. We still get him as a dragon often and the scene when Meb finally sees him like this has great impact.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is original, the characters are memorable, and it’s just a load of fun, not to mention funny without feeling forced. It does end without ending (you’ll see what I mean) but that left a smile on my face because that means there will likely be more. Unfortunately there’s no sequel yet since this book is quite new–the paperback came out this year–but I’m keeping my eyes open for it if it ever happens.

Not bad for a sci-fi author.

The White Gryphon

Thanks to what I read for the last post, I finally had a chance to get to its sequel that I’ve owned for a decade but never read past the first chapter. This time I read the first quarter in one day during a car trip, half of which was spent with an overly bright reading light. The last quarter was finished today. Everything else took about two weeks, as along with life getting in the way, the middle lost momentum. I found it easy to put down in places and that was unfortunate.

It’s ten years later. That’s quite possibly the longest jump in time I’ve ever seen in a sequel. Those from the war camp in Black Gryphon have moved west and developed a new settlement named White Gryphon, named both from a conveniently shaped bit of geography there and from Skandranon, who no longer has the black dyes that gave him his namesake. He’s white, out of shape, having to be more of a political symbol than anything he deems useful, and overall he’s quite unsatisfied with life. Apparently the reckless guy misses risking his neck on a regular basis. What does bring him happiness are his twin gryphlets and mate. We don’t see the little ones much, but they are adorable, and thankfully the beautiful illustrations from the last book are back for this one. My favorite picture involved those two.

See, he’s white now. He’s also a tubbygryph for a while, but the artist was kind enough to Photoshop out his thunder thighs.

Still, Skandranon doesn’t feel like himself anymore. He’s miserable. Throughout the book the plot does force him to gain his old spark back, and before long he’s calling himself the Black Gryphon again. This finally leads to him requesting to be dyed again, and an amusing scene with the gryphon, Aubri, where his feathers aren’t drying as fast as he thought. I’m glad Aubri came back, though it’s sad to see him aging.

The story centers around another kingdom that has claimed the land where White Gryphon stands. Most of the scenes take place there as our heros try to come to an alliance so a war doesn’t break out. Of course it’s not that easy as murders begin to happen and it appears they’re coming at the hands (talons?) of Skandranon. This could have been an engaging murder mystery, but since we know who’s doing it pretty much from the beginning, it takes any suspense out. I know this isn’t really a mystery novel, but that angle could have been effective especially since this part of the plot is what bogged it down for me. Further frustrating is how long it takes the characters to even realize the cause of their troubles. I’ve never seen such obliviousness.

The man “who dunnit,” a diminutive creep named Hadanelith, who would fit right at home in some torture porn, is too unrealistically evil to be interesting. He’s just a nuisance you’d like to swat away and get back to the story. Now later someone feels that he must be the product of some demon, and that could have been interesting, but we don’t know. The parts of the story that really dragged on were when it cut to him or one of the mages that were helping him and we had to listen to them think about how evil and sneaky they were. That could have been summed up in a paragraph and then shown through action. At one point in the middle it went on for a whole chapter and it took me more than a day to get through it. The chapters in this book are much longer than before too. Internal monologue can be okay, but when the characters aren’t engaging and we don’t care about them (in this case cause they’re unbelievable,) it gets tedious and boring. These scenes cut time from others. Skandranon, whose scenes are always great, had to sacrifice screen time and somehow I doubt he’d like that. And not just him, but his friend, Amberdrake, king Shalaman, the grandmotherly Makke, and others.

For that matter, many of the new characters came off unlikable until later in the book. I wanted focus on those I’d grown to care about. Part of this comes from a new culture with a face-palm-inducing social structure. You can tell many people are being taken advantage of with the will of the gods being the excuse. It is interesting to see a new culture, but at the same time it’s maddening.

The way the book ended was great and thankfully didn’t feel so abrupt as the last one. The way the antagonists are taken out is highly satisfying too. I love how Lackey used one of the characters to do it who really needed a moment to shine. The satisfaction would be like if I got to punch Rob Schneider in the face. Oh, why can’t someone make a book about that?

While the book had some moments that bogged down, in the end it was still a satisfying read. I’ll look forward to The Silver Gryphon when I get to it, but for now it’s time to catch up on the other books I read this year, and something winter themed for December.  Now, what could that be . . .

I want a Kechara plus, and when you squeeze it it has to say, “Papa Skan!”