Book Review: The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Simon451 (July 19, 2016)
Length: 336 pages
I’d wanted to read The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power for a long, long time—I’d say pretty much from the moment I first read its description and glimpsed that stunningly gorgeous cover. For one thing, the fact that my love for dragons can only be matched by my love for seafaring fantasy definitely helped turn this book into instant catnip for my senses. Needless to say, my expectations were ultra-high going in. And I just really want to let that be known, in the hopes that maybe my mixed feelings at the end can be better understood.
We begin The Dragon Round with an introduction to the crew of the Comber, a merchant ship captained by Captain Jeryon, one of this story’s main characters. Like most experienced skippers, Jeryon got to be where he is by playing it smart and playing it by the book. His priority is to get his cargo to its destination, avoiding any and all trouble if possible, and so when trouble comes in the form of a dragon in the sky, Jeryon’s first instinct is to leave the creature be, hoping that it will ignore the Comber and go happily on its way. However, some of his crew members disagree, eyeing the dragon for its parts as extra prizes to bring home.
Unsurprisingly, the ensuing encounter with the dragon ends in disaster. Jeryon is overthrown by his mutinous crew and given “the captain’s chance”: to be cast off in a small boat with no rudder, no sails, and no provisions—simply left to the mercy of the seas. For taking Jeryon’s side, the ship’s healer Everlyn also receives the same fate. The two of them end up marooned on a desert island, with no way to escape. Fortunately, the island is abundant with food and water, and can sustain them for a long time, but with the desire for revenge still in his heart, Jeryon is not willing to give up so easily.
One day, Jeryon and Everlyn are exploring when they suddenly come across a dragon nest and witness something no human has ever seen before—a baby dragon hatching from its egg. The two of them decide to raise the tiny female dragonling, which they dub “Gray”, hoping that someday she will eventually grow large enough to carry them off the island. At least, that was the original plan, until Everylyn realizes that Jeryon has a lot more in mind.
To tell the truth, I’m really torn on how to feel about this book. I certainly loved the maritime aspect, and I also have this soft spot for desert island stories—Castaway, Robinson Crusoe, The Blue Lagoon, you name it. I can understand why some people might find them boring, but I’ve always found the survival element of them exciting. I thought the first half of this book was incredibly well done, captivating me with that explosive opening scene featuring the battle between the dragon and the Comber. Then came the on board tensions as Jeryon and Everlyn were sentenced to their cruel fate, their subsequent struggle to stay alive while floating adrift on the open ocean, and finally their arrival to the island where they learned how to build shelter and hunt for food. The two characters carried the story nicely, and I enjoyed their easy relationship and banter as they adjusted to their new reality. Things only got better when they essentially became parents to a baby dragon. Even from the start, Everlyn was the more doting one, treating Gray like a beloved pet. In contrast, Jeryon took to training Gray with a strong hand, because in his mind the dragon is also a deadly weapon.
I also adore revenge stories, and Jeryon is undoubtedly a character deserving of justice. What I found interesting though, is how my perception of him changed over time. I notice that a lot of revenge stories typically work by drumming up sympathy for the aggrieved, so that the reader can connect with their cause and cheer them on. The Dragon Round is different in that respect, showing how a thirst for vengeance can in fact twist a character to the point where they become altogether off-putting and distasteful.
I think this is where things started becoming shaky for me. Thing is, I didn’t actually mind Jeryon’s transformation from an upright captain with sense of honor to a deplorable bloodthirsty vigilante, but I do wish we had been with him for more of that process.
For you see, the second half of the book felt completely different from the first. Just as Jeryon begins his mission to hunt down all his past crew members who betrayed him, the story abruptly switches tack, taking us back on land where the plot also shifts its focus to the power struggles and political conspiracies happening within Hanosh. Not only do we see a change in setting, the narrative also changes a whole new set of character perspectives. Jeryon and Gray are relegated to the background, becoming incidental characters, and poor Everlyn feels almost entirely forgotten.
In a lot of ways, The Dragon Round felt like two books in one because its two halves are just so different. I definitely enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second, and it’s a shame that the excitement and wonder from the beginning didn’t carry through to the end, or I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more. There’s no denying some of the fantastic ideas here, but I just couldn’t embrace the book’s overall structure.
Overall, I had a good time with The Dragon Round, though a part of me also feels it could have been so much more. Still, if nothing else, the first half of the book made everything worth it, with Power proving himself as an excellent wordsmith and talented world-builder. I would be curious to see where his writing takes him next.