Tag Archive: violence


Dragon Avenger

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.

Something looks off about her wings.

Something looks off about her wings.

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.

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As a teenager I was a huge science fiction fan, though a bit of a selective one. I watched Star Trek Deep Space 9 and Voyager religiously, spent over a year reading everything Larry Niven wrote including all of the spin offs, caught every movie from Starship Troopers to Star Wars, and even tried to write my own stories. The latter of which we’ll pretend never happened. I read other authors as such as Jerry Pournelle. I own two of Herbert’s Dune books but at the time never got into them. I was probably too impatient and immature at the time. Likely. I plan to revisit Dune for this blog before long.

One book that caught my eye–it was bigger than the ones around it–was Phyllis Gotlieb’s Flesh and Gold. The reviews inside and on the back cover promised aliens, rich imagery, action, and what titillated my teenage mind: sex. Fabulous. I snagged it from Borders and began reading it at my late grandmother’s home right before I left for my first year of college. There’s a still a photo of me on her porch with it. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but as I began school and the change and adjustments of college steam rolled me, I never managed to finish. About halfway through it got shelved, only to be brought out here and there over the next eleven years with repeated failures at getting to the end.

That was until a week ago. I plowed it in two days and fully regret taking so long to finish such a thrilling story. It’s like a nourishing acid trip. We’ll pretend I know what an acid trip is like. Or, one could say it’s like broccoli covered in Pop Rocks; exciting, colorful, but not so devoid of substance that guilt sneaks in afterward. It’s The Secret of NIMH as opposed to A Troll in Central Park.

Here’s the book:

It’s one of those larger paperbacks that flops open with ease.

While sex plays a huge part in the story–a good portion of the narrative is set within a brothel–this isn’t eroticism in any way, nor is it pornography. The sex is raw, dirty, grungy, and in the background. People take advantage of each other. They deny intimacy. They do it just to get their rocks off. Others are genetically designed for the sole purpose of satisfying every bizarre and illegal pleasure in the universe. Think of everything on the internet, then multiply it by a score of alien fetishes. This includes a snuff film with a topless mermaid and a violent sea creature. The closest we get to any real sensuality comes from an illusion that ends before it begins. It’s an uncaring, primal world.

Violence colors the world too, but like the sex, most of it’s away from the immediate action. We get a few bar fights and an assassination attempt, but the rest happens around the characters, related by mouth, or seen from security cameras. There’s murder, torture, and an overall lack of empathy for life for anyone in the way of another’s goal, both good and bad. No one seems to have a close friend. Relationships at best come from past acquaintances, exes, and a pair using each other to get what they want. It’s enough to taint with cold cruelty.

Despite that, Gotlieb’s rich use of the language and interesting characters makes it a joy to read. She’s a poet first, novelist second. One of the leads, Skerow, a lizard like alien woman who travels the galaxy as a judge, is also a poet. She writes to calm her mind and we see her work often. It comes from a form of three lines, using one, three, and five syllables in any order. The work has a simple, zenlike quality. Even when harsh there’s beauty. We also get longer poetry along the streets of Skerow’s home world.

The aliens are as rich as the writing, and even the humans are exotic. Many dye their hair and skin. Women are often bare headed. The Lyhhrt are particularly fascinating, living balls of protoplasm with a collective consciousness and great spirituality. They manipulate robot-like bodies to get around and have contracted themselves into slavery far from their home world where detachment from it drives them to madness. One can never tell if they’re friendly or dangerous. Fortunately, Gotlieb avoids pulling a Brian Jacques and shows each species to be complex. There’s no sole evil or virtuous alien.

The story does bog down a little in the last part but the conclusion is satisfying. I was disappointed that just as one character’s story was peaking in interest it stopped. Perhaps we’ll get more in the sequels. Otherwise the pacing was great and it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much trouble putting down a book. The writing draws you into the world and holds firm. It’s highly enjoyable and recommended. Unfortunately the series appears out of print so it needs to be ordered online. In fact, I never saw the sequels even when they were released, but they exist according to online book sellers.

It’s also sad that both the author and her husband passed away in 2009. I wish I had finished the book sooner. It makes me think of when I first started reading it over a decade ago at my grandmother’s house. Today I wish that I had called her when I had the chance.

****1/2 of *****