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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood (reviewed by D.C. Stewart)


Official Author Website
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FORMAT/INFO: The Summer Dragon is 496 pages long with a prologue and divided into 51 numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Maia. This is the first volume of the Evertide series.

The Summer Dragon is available in trade paperback, audio and e-book formats from booksellers everywhere. Cover art and illustrations by the author.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: 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 kind of 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 truly 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 A Song Of Ice And Fire 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? It does and it doesn’t.

The basic plot of The Summer Dragon is that dragon roosts, places where dragons are raised and trained for the far-off military, are being attacked by an outside force of evil bad guys who not only steal dragons, but infuse them with a necromancy that defiles their every virtue. Maia is a young dragon trainer, the daughter of a master, and The Summer Dragon tells the story of her attempts to find her place in a world familiar but beset by villainy. Eventually, Maia gets her own dragon, through unusual and daring circumstances, who she raises and bonds with. War comes to the aerie, and she is forced to perform feats and stunts that put her so far outside her comfort zone that she can barely see the shore.

The book is about Maia, but it is more about dragons, and specifically Maia’s dragon, Keirr. These two share a bond that transcends friendship, and certainly surpasses any master/slave relationship. They are linked in mind and spirit, 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. Other books have done this. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, with a power called the Wit, is an easy example of when animal bonds are done right. Fitz and his wolf Nighteyes share much in common with Maia and her dragon Keirr, and fans of the former friendship will find things to appreciate about the latter.

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 is leftover for story. Characterization also takes a bit of a hit. This is 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 square miles, but there was very little to compel me to turn those pages outside of seeing what cool things dragons could do.

The plot of an evil army invading someone’s home is more worn out than Spider-Man reboots. There is an overarching story, of course, because this is a series, and Lockwood gives us some glimpses of what is brewing in the larger world, but despite sparking our curiosity, he does not give us much to whet our appetites. And so I am still left with the problem of loving something that very few people write about well.

CONCLUSION: 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). Do I think Lockwood was mistaken in his need to put pen instead of pencil to paper? No, I think he has done quite well for a debut novel, and I will read the next installment of his Evertide series. It will likely have dragons, after all.

1 comments:

Rick Robinson said...

If you thought PERN was poorly written and plotted, then there is little chance you'll find much in the way of enjoyable SF.

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