Tough Traveling: Dragons
Back in 2014, the idea for Tough Traveling started with Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn who came up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre by Diana Wynn Jones. It was widely successful, with over fifty bloggers participating at one point before it went on hiatus. But now Tough Traveling is back, with huge thanks to Laura from Fantasy Faction for reviving the feature! Every first of the month we’ll be posting a list of books that fit a particular theme, with the next month’s theme also to be announced. Interested in participating? Well, grab your traveling packs and come along! You are welcome to post your Tough Traveling lists anytime during the month.
September’s topic is:
The Tough Guide advises that Dragons are ‘very large scaly beings with wings and long spiky tails, capable of breathing fire through their mouths. They can be almost any colour or combination of colours, though green, red and black are preferred. They are always very old. Most of them seem to have flown to Fantasyland aeons ago across the void. This migration was almost certainly to get away from our world, where people would insist that they were dangerous monsters that had to be exterminated. Dragons, as all Fantasyland knows, are no such thing.’ Or are they?
The Age of Dragons
Well duh, of course I’m going to include Dragon Age on my list. How can I not? This BioWare series is so named because the people of the world of Thedas like to define eras by a prominent factor. In this case, the return of dragons to the skies prompted the Divine to name the tenth age thusly. And what an auspicious age it has been! Dragons play an important role in this series, but they are rarely helpful — and even when they look like they might be helping, it’s only because their plans align with the hero’s — for the time being.
In Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, several dragons take to the skies. They are the alternate forms of the Soultaken, a group of shapeshifters who gained their powers through ritual. Anomander Rake’s soultaker form is that of a black dragon, the largest anyone has ever seen.
The Dragons of Earthsea
Earthsea’s dragons are neither good nor evil, but it is wise to avoid them. They have no use for humans, save for the dragonlords, those humans who can understand the language of the Making and who may know the true names of the dragons and can, therefore, will them to do their bidding.
The Celestial Dragon
In Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Kiss, Moirin meets a princess who is locked away, bond to a celestial dragon that is far more than a mere guardian.
The Luck Dragon
“Never give up, and good luck will find you.” So says Falkor, the luck dragon who shares his wisdom and his back with Atreyu and Sebastion, the protagonists of Michael Ende’s Neverending Story.
Listing all the books on my shelf that fit this month’s theme would take forever, so let’s try something a little different today. Behold, my top five favorite books/series featuring dragons!
I’ve seen fantasy deal with the subject of dragons in many ways: sometimes they’re the monsters for the heroes to kill, sometimes they’re intelligent and have the ability to speak, forming partnerships with humans or even taking human shape, etc. However, I personally liked how this series tackled the matter by painting dragons as simply another kind of wild animal species, as well as the main character’s biologist/naturalist perspective to want to observe and study them. As indicated by the series’ title, these novels are told in the form of a memoir from the venerable Lady Trent, leading research and expert on the topic of dragons. Earlier this year, we saw the fifth and final book and it was a bittersweet experience for me, but I was also glad that I finally got to see all of the author’s ideas come to fruition.
Todd Lockwood is one talented guy. Not only is he a professional illustrator and a painter of beautiful dragons (in fact, he is the artist who provided all the covers and interior art for Marie Brennan’s series above), apparently he’s one hell of an author too. His debut, The Summer Dragon, takes place in a world where dragons are used as mounts in war, and protagonist Maia and her family are breeders who supply the army with young dragonlings. For as long as she can remember though, Maia has wanted a dragon of her own to love and train and ride, but as Brood Day draws nearer it seems once again the army will be demanding their entire stock this year. A new threat is emerging, and it has already destroyed another one of the Dragonry’s most productive aeries. To fight the enemy, the army is going to need every single dragon they can get their hands on.
Of course, no list about my favorite books featuring dragons can be without A Game of Thrones, a novel that is close to my heart. I won’t go into my mixed feelings about some of the later books in the series, but this first one sucked me in right away and left me in awe of the world and characters brought to life by George R.R. Martin’s addictive storytelling. I recall an interview I saw with him one time in which he stated that too much magic can ruin fantasy, and I have to say I can see where he’s coming from, for while I have nothing against excessive magic, in general I do find myself preferring fantasy fiction that is heavier on the realistic elements. Dragons, however, are the exception to this rule. Everyone knows that for instant awesome, just add dragons, and the ones in A Song of Ice and Fire are some of the best in the genre.
It’s the Napoleonic wars…but with dragons. As with A Song of Ice and Fire, the series Temeraire and I have had our ups and downs, but this first book remains one of my favorite dragon books of all time. Not surprisingly, in here you’ll find many incredible scenes of intense aerial combat and draconic battles, but my favorite aspect of the book was probably the main character’s relationship with his dragon. Captain Will Laurence was happy with his seafaring life serving in the British Royal Navy, until a chance encounter results in him becoming bonded to Temeraire, a newly hatched dragonlet seized from a captured French frigate. Though I enjoyed the thrilling action in these books, I was much more interested in the dynamics between these two characters, and devoured His Majesty’s Dragon while savoring every moment as master and dragon bonded over time.
Rounding out this list is something a little different. Meet Julius, the protagonist of this series, which is a mix of magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy. Julius is the youngest, smallest, most powerless dragon in his family, the Heartstriker clan. Still, he isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. For one thing, he’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone where he’s left to either get with the program or fend for himself.