Why do I love dragons? Is it their impossibility? Even with hollow bones, something that large carousing through the air with nothing but muscle power is pretty unbelievable. Is it their ferocity? I do also love bears and sharks (at a distance). Is it their mythical nature? I tend to be drawn towards those creatures too strange to exist in our world: the phoenix, flying whales, giant wolves who swing swords around in their mouths. You know – that nonsense.
But dragons are special even among the extraordinary. It was only when starting The Summer Dragon that I realized: outside of The Hobbit, I have never really read a great book about dragons. I’ve read a few decent ones, and more than a few middling attempts, but very rarely outside the Tolkien Legendarium has there been a novel wherein dragons were well represented. The Eragon series was fine at first, but really buried itself further in. I couldn’t read past the first Pern novel because I thought it was poorly written and stumbled around on shaky plot. I read one or two of the Temeraire books, but wasn’t hooked and was maybe even a little offended at the complete subjugation of dragons as war mounts. And of course Game of Thrones has three dragons, but those books aren’t about dragons (unless you consider Daenerys one).
Yes, plenty of books have dragons in them, but few are truly about dragons. The Summer Dragon is definitely about dragons, both mythically and practically speaking. But does it do these magnificent impossibilities justice? Kinda.
The basic plot of The Summer Dragon is that dragon roosts, places where dragons are raised and trained for the military, are being attacked by an outside force of evil bad guys. The book focuses on Maia, the daughter of a master trainer, and her attempts to find her place in the dragon-world. Eventually, Maia gets her own dragon, who she raises and bonds with. War comes to the aerie, and people fight. That’s putting it in simple terms.
The book is about Maia, but also about dragons and her dragon, Keirr, specifically. These two share a bond that transcends friendship, and certainly surpasses any master/slave relationship. They are linked in mind, and the thing I most appreciated about the book was the respect afforded to these extremely intelligent, beautiful creatures. There is even a scene where a dragon rider calls his dragon a beast, and with that simple clue we can infer that he is a bad dude and that we will not like him.
So there is no doubt that this a book about dragons. The trouble is, there is so much thought given to the care and training of dragons that very little creativity is leftover for actual story. Characterization also takes a bit of a hit. This is mostly fine because, honestly, I would read a training manual if it described the kind of dragon-riding details that The Summer Dragon does. In some ways it doesn’t need a plot. But I’d prefer to read a well-thought out novel that surprises and engages me with storytelling. The Summer Dragon tries this, and its world-building is actually quite good even if it’s limited to a few miles, but there was very little to compel me to turn those pages outside of seeing what cool things dragons could do.
And so I am still left with the problem of loving something that very few people write about well. Todd Lockwood’s art definitely captures the majesty of draconis. He began his book career as an artist, and I loved seeing his renditions scattered throughout the book. They manage to convey some sense of his vision without derailing too much of my own (the reason we don’t cram illustrations into every book we write is because reader imagination is one of the most important aspects of the process).
Will I ever get the dragon book that I seek? Is it simply not possible to write about dragons in a way that this book reviewer wants? I guess that remains to be seen. Keep an eye out for my upcoming novel about dragons.