04 October 2010

Here, There be Dragons!

To quote the pawnshop owner in 'The Flight of Dragons', "You're a real dragon nut." Erm, yeah. I am. Big time. And as I'm reasonably sure there must be more of you out there, the following is a ridiculously long list of books about dragons. Heaps and piles of lovely dragons. Mostly in the young reader/teen categories, but with a few older titles as well. And in honour of the school year which has recently begun, I think I'll give them grades. But since I'm not a writing professor, I'm going to just feel free to grade mainly on whether I like it or not, with less emphasis on actual writing quality. Hated it when profs did that in school, but so what? My post, on my topic, populated with lots and lots of dragon stuff! Stuff like:

James A. Owen: Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica
I love these, not only for the lovely twist at the end of the first one (we've talked about my no-spoilers policy, ne?) but for the incredibly detailed art, the sheer number of literary figures who show up to take part, and the time-wrangling fantasticness of the whole shebang. I got Mari hooked on them when she was in the US last fall, which basically means I have to mail out a book periodically, but that's okay. There are currently 4 entries in the series, with #5 due out this fall, and though the dragons don't actually figure that prominently (they're ships, mostly, as you can probably tell from the cover art, but sentient), if you'd like to hang out in a place with bits of Arthurian legends, talking badgers *nudge nudge wink wink*, and everyone from Captain Nemo to Peter Pan's granddaughter (you heard me), this is where you can do it. Grade: A

Christopher Paolini: Inheritance Cycle

We all know the backstory on these - teen author self-publishes his book, goes wandering around promoting it, famous author's stepson thinks it's awesome and before you know it, poof! Great big deal. Now, I know that it's derivative of Lord of the Rings (really, what high fantasy doesn't owe Tolkein a major debt?); I know there's some pretty clunky dialogue, especially in the first one; but you know, he was 15 years old and it has dragons in it and so I like it. (No, I haven't seen the movie; once I heard they cast a blonde as Arya I knew it was gonna suck, and the reviews I've read seem to bear out that verdict.) Anyway, the later ones definitely get better. The world-building is thorough, and I always enjoy invented languages (though I can't quite wrap my mind around some of the suggested pronunciations, based on their sources). Now, if he'd just get his butt in gear and cough up the fourth and final volume, I would be a much happier dragon nut. Grade: B+

Naomi Novik: Temeraire

So what would have happened if the Napoleonic Wars had been fought, not just on land and sea, but in the air as well? And since we're not going to ring the steampunk bell today, this means not airplanes, dirigibles, or anything of that sort, but dragons. There are currently 6 entries in this series (I admit it, I haven't read them all {yet}) but what I've seen so far is fantastic. Temeraire is a rare Chinese dragon, captured as an egg from a French ship and now in the service of the British; he's highly intelligent, highly maneuverable, and excellent company, for his companions as well as for readers - I barreled through several hundred pages the other night during a lovely thunderstorm and barely noticed the clamour outside. The period setting is well drawn and detailed, from matters of etiquette (and lack thereof...) to speech patterns, and the creation and description of multiple dragon species, each with their own characteristics (many of which are neatly explained in an "excerpt" from a book by one of the characters) and heritage. I actually cried at the death of a character (not telling!) at the end of the first book, so you know it sucks you in but good. Note that the pictured edition (a bind-up of the first three volumes) also contains a bonus short story. Grade: A+

Dawn Lairamore: Ivy's Ever After

This is one of the few stand-alones on my list, but I just loved the concept - basically, in a kingdom long ago and far away (duh), there's a deal between the humans and the dragons that 14-year-old princesses get stuck in a tower, guarded by a dragon, there to remain until Prince Whoever comes and slays the beast to win her hand. When Ivy turns 14, she figures, the hell with that, makes friends with her slightly wimpy and very bookworm-y dragon, and they head off on their own adventure, trying to thwart a pretty nasty piece of Prince and save the kingdom. Awesome. Grade: A

Patricia C. Wrede: Enchanted Fore
st Chronicles

Hey, who says you have to be male to be king? Not with these dragons, you don't. I've been enjoying the four books in this series for quite some time (I think I first read them nearly 20 years ago); oh, and there's another stereotype-busting princess to be had. I like these girls. I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, it all starts off with Cimorene (that's the princess) heading off to be a dragon's servant to get away from the boredom of palace life. She moves in with Kazul, who is also a pretty cool chick (errrrm... dragon), and over the course of the series they have many adventures (including the king-thing, some magic carpet rides, and the scariest of all... parenthood). Twisted tropes, hilarious situations, and magic make it worth returning to again and again. Grade: A

Jane Yolen: Pit Dragon series

You know how, when you really get into a series, you just want to read straight through the whole thing and it's super annoying when the author hasn't written them all yet and you have to wait forever for the next one? *cough*OrderofthePhoenix*cough* Try waiting around for two decades, which is how much time elapsed between the third and fourth books in this series. Set in the far future on a planet colonized by humans (but with native dragons), it's a slightly odd but nicely blended sci-fi/fantasy cross-pollination. There are some gory bits, and some sad ones, and lots and lots of adventures; there's also some neatly disguised social commentary about class and ability and politics, but don't let on that I told you. Grade: B+

A.J. Lake: Darkest Age trilogy

Set in an alternate Middle Ages-era England where dragons really did roam the earth (or at least the skies), Elspeth and Edmund are thrown together on a storm-tossed boat. Edmund is a noble with the rare ability to see through others' eyes; Elspeth is the ship captain's daughter. When a dragon swoops in during the aforementioned storm and lays waste to the ship, they are the only survivors - well, them and a mysterious trunk. With their hitherto-unknown and not-particularly-welcome powers, they head off on a - I was trying to avoid clich├ęs, but oh well - quest, set against the villain of the piece, the sorcerer Orgrim. They have help, in the person of a minstrel who, as usual, is more than what he seems; later on, bits of Norse mythology and a trip to mainland Europe provide variety and lots of adventure. Grade: B+

Kaza Kingsley: Erec Rex series

Boy lives relatively normal life (barring some strange household goods and family members). Boy eventually discovers he is not normal. Goes off to be educated with a bunch of other not-normals. Okay, so with a beginning like that, plenty of other stories come to mind, not least Harry Potter. However, that's where the parallels end, because Erec has a whole lot of seriously wild, weird, and occasionally woolly (oi! Keep the mutton bones out of the cloning experiments!) quests and discoveries to make on the way to (hopefully) finding his missing two siblings (they're triplets) and becoming king of one of the three interlinked magical realms. It touches on vast swaths of mythology (for example, the current rulers are Piter, Posey and Pluto, and I'm sure you can all figure out the sources for those), as well as more serious issues (the second book takes aim at xenophobia, for example). As for the "Dragon's Eye" of the title, well, it originally belonged to a dragon by the name of Aoquesth... There are currently 4 entries in this series; supposedly, there will eventually be 8. Grade: A-

Kate Klimo: Dragon Keepers series

Okay, I admit it, it was the title of the first one that got me to read this - I may love kidlit, but I don't usually go quite this young. It was worth it though, 'cause these are fun. Daisy and Jesse, 10-year-old cousins, inadvertently become dragon keepers when a little green dragon (whom they name Emerald, or Emmy for short) hatches for them. That ol' pill St. George is still hanging around on his dragon-slaying mission, so they have to deal with him, but fortunately they get online help from a certain Professor Anderson. There are some neat twists in here (especially in the 3rd one, but then again, I love anything with a library), and it's well worth discovering for the younger dragon nuts of your acquaintance. I mean, wouldn't you have loved a dragon that could change itself into your pet sheepdog when you were a kid? Grade: A-

Obert Skye: Pillage series
As an avowed dragon nut (to go back to the pawnshop owner, "I take it back. You're a dragon fanatic!"), generally I prefer it when the dragons are the good guys - or at least they're on both sides of whatever conflict is going on. The dragons that Beck Phillips encounters, however, are definitely the baddies, and a destructive lot they are, too. A family curse, some seriously weird abilities (like making all kinds of things grow at a furious rate), a strange uncle - just don't expect anything like the author's other series (Leven Thumps, if you're wondering why the name looks familiar). Grade: B

Sophie Jordan: Firelight

As I sit here typing, I just tried to dissuade my roommate from reading this one. The concept is very cool - descendants of dragons who can take human form (called draki), and the difficulties of blending with normal human society, especially when the guy you've got a crush on was hunting you the week before... Aaaaand that's where the trouble comes in - this could have been really great, if Jacinda (draki-girl) and Will (hunter-guy), plus Cassian (draki-boy) didn't have unmistakable and really annoying overtones of Bella and Edward and Jacob. With a premise this promising, I have no idea why Jordan thought Twilight-ing it was a good idea (okay, I'm not stupid, I have some idea... $$$); so despite its early promise, that plummets its score several levels. Grade: C+

Chris D'Lacey: Last Dragon

As frequently occurs in publishing-land, this UK series is a little bit behind arriving on US shores... I think we're caught up now though, with five of an eventual seven volumes in print. Unusually for a young-reader series, the main character is not a child, but a college student; when he takes a room with a woman and her daughter, all kinds of strange things start happening, involving clay dragons at first, and eventually carrying over into Arctic adventures (the author has a bit of an obsession with polar bears), a little romance, plenty of mystery, and - well, I suppose we'll have to wait for the last two volumes to see how it all shakes out (the 6th is apparently due {in the UK, at least} in early 2011). David, our hero, is a writer himself, and one of the coolest things about this series (when the reader is a writer), is the power that writing has within the tale. Grade: B+

Jessica Day George: Dragon Slippers, etc.

Creel rocks. Okay, let me put that in a little bit of context. Her parents are dead, and she has a cranky auntie who tries to park her with a dragon so some guy will feel like he has to rescue and then marry her so her aunt won't have to take care of her anymore. Creel, however, is understandably not keen on this idea. Now, dragons, as everyone knows, hoard treasure. However, what that treasure actually is depends on the taste of each individual dragon, so there's one who collects dogs, one who collects scrolls, and (pace Carrie Bradshaw) one who collects shoes. So Creel wins a gift (a pair of blue slippers) from the first dragon she meets and heads off to the city to try and make a living with her embroidery skills. Then things get really interesting. Thought you had nice shoes for your friend's wedding? Oh, you have NO idea. Mind you, that's just the first book; there are three! And the prince is quite a useful fellow, too, he doesn't just stand around looking royal or anything like that. Grade: A

Robin McKinley: Dragonhaven; The Hero and the Crown; The Blue Sword
I should probably preface this bit by saying that McKinley is married to Peter Dickinson, the dude who wrote The Flight of Dragons (which is not in this post because it's out of print {*rages at stupid dragon-hating publishers*} and it's super-hard to get hold of a copy [I totally did though]) upon which my total favouritest bestest dragon movie is based (which I tried to link to but they've taken it off of Google and YouTube... ugh). Okay, but anyway, she writes proper dragonish stuff as well, including the Newbery winner pictured at left. Dragonhaven is a contemporary fantasy, set in the US; the others take place in the invented realm of Damar (though can be read independently of each other - fewer dragon bits here). Grade: A

Alison Goodman: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona: The Last Dragoneye
There's probably a reason that "awesome" and "Aussie" sound a lot alike, at least to my sleep-deprived ears... and this is one great read. I have been desperately trying to confirm a US release-date of 1 October for Eona - if you're reading this sentence on the morning of the 4th, well, either I failed or it's not out. It seems to have an Australian date of 3 February 2011, though. Okay, so anyway, there's cross-dressing in both directions, dragons based off of the Chinese zodiac, danger, intrigue, action, woooo! Eon is a crippled 12-year-old boy in training to become a Dragoneye (a sort of partner to one of the twelve energy dragons)... except he's a she, and she's 16, and - oh, just read it already, it came out in paperback last month anyway. Grade: A

Susan Fletcher: Dragon Chronicles
Remember what I said up there about Yolen's Pit Dragon series in re: time lag? Yeah, ditto (14 years this time). Except I didn't even know this fourth one was coming until I poked through a cart of books at the store today looking for Zombies vs. Unicorns and lo and behold! New Fletcher too. So I was a good little blogger and picked it up so I could be up to date with this entry. *pats self on back* Anyway, these have been around since I was a kid (or the first one has, anyway, with a pub date of 1989), and they follow the green-eyed girls (and one boy) who can talk to birds and dragons. The original three are set in unspecified "olden tymes" (though with hints of Wales and Iceland, at least to me), while the most recent is in near-future Oregon and Alaska. I now want a pet dracling, fireburps or no. Grade: A-

Donita Paul: DragonKeeper Chronicles
Totally calling shenanigans on these - they're shelved in the regular ol' sci-fi/fantasy section, they have nice dragony titles and cover art, they're well-written with some really great world-building, and then the author goes and shoehorns Christianity into it and wrecks the whole thing. ("So why'd you read them?" "'Cause I had injured my wrists really badly and couldn't hold a book and they had very soft covers that worked in my BookHug." "Yeah, but you read three of them." "I'm a stubborn git and wanted to see if they'd get better.") Then again, what's it tell you when, among five invented races and magic and dragons, the real-world religion is the bit that makes you go "Hey, that makes NO sense"? Heh. Anyway, she's got a second series as well that I haven't bothered with, but rumour has it they're not quite so bash-you-over-the-head about it. Maybe I'll try one. Maybe. Grade: C-

Tad Williams and Deborah Beale: Dragons of Ordinary Farm

I knew Williams from his massive Otherland series (a near-future sci-fi/fantasy hybrid that I also recommend), so when I saw this one last year I grabbed it (Beale is, I believe, his wife). The premise is fun - a pair of siblings head off to a previously-unknown relative's farm for the summer, but get some very strange instructions beforehand, mainly to do with some seriously odd cows. When they arrive... yep. You guessed it. Dragons! And unicorns, and all kinds of other weird critters. Oh, and time holes and neighbors and... It's a bit meandering, but a good read anyway - no sign of a sequel yet though, at least that I've seen. Grade: B

Cornelia Funke: Dragon Rider

Okay, we all know it's true more often than not - when it comes to amazing (and frequently endangered) animals, humans are the enemy. The young dragon Firedrake sets out on a quest to find a safe place for his species to hide from encroaching humans. Throw in a runaway boy (Ben), an odd little catlike brownie (Sorrel), and a nasty golden dragon called Nettlebrand, mix well, and read quickly (not like you'd really be able to help yourself). Full of Funke's wonderful imagery (ably translated by Anthea Bell, who also did the Inkheart Trilogy), this is another good one for those younger types. Grade: A-

Emily Rodda: Dragons of Deltora

This is one of several series set in the invented country of Deltora (4 books in this one). After the 8 volumes of the first series, our heroes Lief, Jasmine and Barda must now find and wake the only 7 remaining dragons to help save the land from the Shadow Lord's left-behind horrors. There's one in each of the sections of the country, so we get another tour of the landscape and its residents as they hunt for the gem-related dragons. (If you're not familiar with the series, the gems of the regions correspond to the letters in the name "Deltora" - namely, Diamond, Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Topaz, Opal, Ruby, Amethyst.) More fabulous fantasy from Down Under. Grade: B+

Now, I realize that despite the length of this list, I'm missing some major players in the world of dragonlore - folks like Anne McCaffrey, Robin Hobb, Hickman & Weis, Mercedes Lackey, Ruth Stiles Gannet, and of course Cressida Cowell of "How to Train Your Dragon" fame. So. Those of you who HAVE gotten to them, feel free to chime in in the comments and let me know if they're worth reading. ;-)


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It looks like you've taken books from my son's bookshelf! I recognize Deltora, Dragon Rider, Last Dragon, Pillage, Erec Rex, Darkest Age, Eragon, and Here there be Dragons. Wow! Some great books here. Thanks for the ideas on more books to get for him!

Shaharizan Perez said...

*comes out of the closet*

I too recognize most of these books and that is because I have read most of them.

Fabulous list, Leanne!

Hart Johnson said...

Great review, Leanne-I will have to look at a couple of these (and some look like Sam might like them--a constant quest)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I was just thinking about McCaffrey's dragons. Also the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit.
And while I've never read the book version, How To Train Your Dragon was the second best movie this year!

ViolaNut said...

Elizabeth & Tami - erm, yeah, I've mentioned how I'm basically still 11, right? ;-)

Chary - Yeah!!! Dragon nuts unite! :-)

Alex - I thought about including things like The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and other books that had dragons in them but they weren't a main feature per se... then I realized how long this thing was and said forget it. ;-) (PS - so what's the best movie?)

Kas said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE dragonsss!!!!
Anyway, I'm one of those people who gets stuck reading the same things and doesn't often venture out, so I'm super excited to have a new VERIFIED list of dragon-y books to read!
I have the Inheritance series, and my big dragon obsession is the Anne McCaffrey books. She has lots of strong female characters, which I always like. And I often like the dragon personalities quite a bit as well. :)

Yayyyy DRAGONSS!!!
Anddd I'm going now...

(Oh, and How to Train Your Dragon really was amazingness.)

Unknown said...

The Secrets of Ordinary Farm is being delivered to the publisher in 2 weeks - sorry I don't have pub date - even more dragonish than the first one! Best wishes & thanks for review, Deborah Beale

ViolaNut said...

Kassy - YEEEEEEEEEEHAW! I knew there were more dragon nuts out there! :-) Hope you find a few in here that you like, and looks like I'm going to have to try the McCaffreys and the Cowells. :-)

And wow, thanks for the tip on your new one, Deborah! I will definitely look for it when the pub date arrives!

Unknown said...

ANother great dragon series is Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Trilogy, Tawny Man Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicle.

I have read the first three trilogies and am now beginning the fourth.

Yes, Leanne, I can admit I am a dragon nut.

*takes a bow*

Not Hannah said...

Falls over from somebody knowing "A Flight of Dragons."

I luff them, too. Carry on.

ViolaNut said...

Chary - that's right, you had Hobb on your list last week, didn't you? Yeah, I need to get to those...

Not Hannah - OHMYGOD I LOOOOOOOVE that movie. I'm annoyed that it's gone and vanished from Google movies and YouTube (I was gonna link to it) and I think I'm going to have to get the on-demand DVD from Amazon. Bah. Gotta love Ritter's characterization of Peter... :-) Gonna shut up now.