I don’t think you can get much more typical than this month’s theme: fantasy’s favourite scaled, flying, fire-breathing fictional beasts!
The Tough Travels feature was originally created and run by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Laura Hughes at Fantasy Faction. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it puts the spotlight on a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.
Here’s what the guide has to say about dragons:
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?
This may sound surprising, but when I saw this topic approaching, I got a little worried… because despite being a fantasy fan, I felt like I hadn’t read all that many books that prominently featured dragons. I had read a lot of books that feature dragons in part, but few that put them centre-stage, and few of those where I could say the dragons themselves were particularly excellent or unique. I like dragons, but the promise of dragons alone has never compelled me to pick up a book.
However, this theme inspired me to pick up a couple of dragon-focused books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, and really enjoyed them. So here are four books that I particularly loved for their dragons, two of them freshly read:
I didn’t expect to like Dragonflight when I first spied it – I’m not sure why, but the cover and title made me expect a clichéd child-hatches-dragon-egg-and-has-adventures story. Fortunately, after seeing several recommendations and the awards it had won, I picked it up and realised I was so wrong! This book has a lot going on: time travel, sexism, politics, history, inter-planetary threats. What I loved was that the dragons were not only needed for travelling through space and time, but that their breathing of fire was vital to fighting a very unique antagonist: the destructive ‘threads’ that rain from the skies every 400 years when another planet passes too close to Pern.
His Majesty’s Dragon
It was the premise of His Majesty’s Dragon that first caught my attention: the Napoleonic Wars… but with dragons! After loving Novik’s Uprooted I was keen to finally start this series, and I wasn’t disappointed. The point of view of very prim and proper British naval officer Laurence was a new one for me, but I came to really like him, as well as the dragon Temeraire, and indeed all the dragons and their handlers (though I got very outraged to see one dragon treated badly!). I was also just so impressed with the detail in this book: the dragons were plausibly inserted into the military strategy of the larger army, like an archaic airforce, and the complexity of the ranks and the training and the strategies made it feel incredibly real.
Seraphina is a young adult novel, particularly intriguing for the fact that the dragon characters can take human form, and the story focuses on the tenuous treaty between dragons and humans. The prejudices and hatreds between the two species are at the forefront, and the main character is herself half-human, half-dragon, so she feels these tensions keenly. It was a fun, romantic story with a strong main character, and I enjoyed its interesting take on dragon-human relations.
Heir of Fire
Heir of Fire is the 3rd book in the Throne of Glass series, and actually probably my favourite of all the books, largely because it introduces the iron-teeth witches and the ‘wyverns’ they learn to ride. These witches are ruthless, flesh-eating women who literally have teeth of iron, and they’re working for the bad guys. Their wyverns are tortured and equally vicious beasts. However, amidst all the cruelty and brutality, bonds start to emerge between the witches and the beasts they ride, and you see a hidden side to both emerge. There was one wyvern in particular who won my heart by thwarting everyone’s expectations, including my own. I won’t say more to avoid spoiling it, but I really loved these wyverns!
I know there are some classic dragon books I haven’t included on my list: The Hobbit, A Wizard of Earthsea, Magician, A Game of Thrones… but in all of these cases, it’s been so long since I read the books, or the TV/film adaptations are now so prominent in my mind, that I no longer feel I can rightly describe the original dragons nor say how I felt about the books in detail… so I will leave such things to tough travellers who are more brushed up on their dragonlore than I!
For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on Fantasy Faction.