Tough Travels: Dragons

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:


Book Cover: DragonflightI 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

Book Cover: His Majesty's DragonIt 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.


Book Cover: SeraphinaSeraphina 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

Book Cover: Heir of FireHeir 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.

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Strongholds’

Next Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Minions’>

33 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Dragons

  1. Ahh my favourite mythical creatures!! Yay!!! I’ve got to admit, I’m often wary of dragon books, cos they often don’t live up to my expectations (and I’m *very* fussy about what the author does with them) so I can actually be put off by the promise of dragons- just out of fear of what the author will do with them! I do have Anne McCaffrey and Novik’s books as well- so I can’t really comment on that. I’ve got to admit I hated Seraphina though- I think that had more to do with the plot than anything else- but I still really struggle to find human-to-dragon stories that I like (when in theory this could be my favourite thing in the world) I just think that they often don’t get the balance right- most cases are too like humans, though in this one I just didn’t see them as dragon-like enough and wasn’t able to connect them with any dragonlore I like (though the imagery was nice in some parts). Like I said- I’m fussy! Heir of Fire was my favourite too! And I *loved* the wyverns- they added something so unique to the story- I just adored Manon’s relationship with hers as well!! Smaug is probably my all time favourite dragon (and incidentally the bar by which I judge all other dragons- though they don’t have to be the same- I just like them to be as striking as he is). I do adore the dragons in Game of Thrones though, for very different reasons (he’s done them in a distinctive way that really works for his world- they’re not too “old world” fantasy like Tolkien- like a lot of the magic/magical creatures he uses, they have just the right amount of mysticism and realism). Love your post!! Sorry for going on and on about dragons lol!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha thanks!! I think that’s actually the reason I haven’t read as many dragon books as I thought I would have – I really love dragons when they’re done well, but if they aren’t it can be disappointing, and I’ve been burned a few times (didn’t intend to make a pun but there it is! 😛 ), so if I see dragons promised I’m sometimes wary the story is just going to try and cash in on dragon love without really delivering something good. But if you get a book that does them well they’re awesome!! I can understand why you didn’t like Seraphina – the balance of the human-dragon thing was very human-weighted, and the mechanics of how it worked were never quite explained… but I enjoyed it as a comforting, light-hearted read, and found the notion of the treaty interesting… it’s the only human-to-dragon tale I’ve read so far though. Have you ever read any of those that you liked? Or were they all not quite right? I’m glad you loved the wyverns in Heir of Fire, and Manon!! I really adored that relationship. Actually at first I was kind of bored when the wyverns were introduced because it seemed to just be a standard ‘who can win the biggest baddest dragon’ competition… and then that surprise came along and that relationship developed and I LOVED it! Yes Smaug really is the original dragon – I need to reread the book because at the moment the book version of him is just a distant blur, so I am just going by the film version, which I really loved, but I’m always hesitant to rely solely on film versions when commenting on such things 🙂 That’s true, the Game of Thrones dragons do feel very real, much like a lot of the ‘magical’ elements in the series – I liked that about them too! Haha that’s okay, dragons are worth going on about!! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • hahaha I’m glad I’m not the only one like that!! hehehehe yes!! (that pun was smoking hot anyway- ouch!- I did intend to make that pun, but it’s still bad). You’re so right!! Yeah- I quite liked the idea of the treaty, just felt the dragons could be more fleshed out (and to be honest a lot of my issues were with the plot anyway, cos it didn’t wow me) Well funny thing about that- I have this distinct memory of reading one I loved when I was pretty young- but have never remembered the name or how I got hold of it… it’s been so long I’m starting to wonder if I made it up 😉 Hehe annnnd that was a really long winded way of saying effectively no. Have you? Hehe me too!! I was the same! I also thought “oh no, this is distracting from the actual plot”- boy how wrong I was!! hehe yes the film version of Smaug is probably the best part of the films (Cumberbatch’s voice!!!) and one of the few things I really liked. hehehe yes!!

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        • Haha the puns just keep on coming!! 😀 Ah yes, fair enough. And that’s interesting you have a memory of a great human-to-dragon story but don’t know the name/details… that would be frustrating! That happens to me too sometimes with books I read as a kid. I’m racking my brain to think if I’ve read any but I don’t think I have. Maybe there was one where the evil guy transformed into a dragon at the end, but that wasn’t really earth-shattering stuff :/ Yes, it really did seem like a distracting, boring subplot with Manon at first… so glad it went the other way!! I also loved Cumberbatch’s performance for Smaug, it really was a highlight, his voice really was so perfect for it (I love the videos of him acting it out without all the CGI markers on – he really channels pure dragon!).


        • Hehe yes 😉 hahaha it is!! It happens to me quite a bit too- sometimes I eventually rediscover the book, bit a lot of the times I don’t. Haha yes that happens 😉
          Yes for sure!! Definitely agree!! Yes he does!! I was so glad they got my favourite character right- almost made up for the bits they got wrong 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Tough Travels: Dragons | Wyrmflight

  3. Dragons are fun, but I have to admit I am a bit sick of dragon riders, to the point where the Game of Thrones TV show fails to impress me. Dragons can be good when used as creatures, or even side-characters to the protagonist. However, you can fall into trouble when the dragon is your main character. “Dragon of Ash and Stars” is a good example. The book is written in the first-person perspective of a dragon, but its is repeated throughout that dragons do not have the capacity for human language. Then, one is left to wonder, how is the narrator telling us his story? (Don’t let that suggest it’s a wholly bad book, I enjoyed it for the most part).

    I am struggling with this myself. I have a dragon character in a fantasy series I am writing. I am trying to figure out whether or not I should write from the dragon’s POV (third-person, but non-human POV nonetheless). I have set myself up well by making my dragons capable of human speech. A cop-out? I tried a scene from the dragon’s POV, but it ended up feeling more like a human character rather than a dragon. I am now questioning writing a full episode with the dragon in the lead. It would benefit the story, since he is a critical character. But I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not.


    • Hm I haven’t read many books with dragon POVs so it’s hard to say what I think of them… Seraphina did have some, but since the dragons shape-shifted into humans they were kind of human anyway. Despite having very intelligent talking dragons, His Majesty’s Dragon never had a dragon POV, and I liked that it was all from the human perspective.

      I guess the result of giving any non-human character a POV is they end up sounding human (and if they don’t, empathising probably becomes harder)… though I’ve read books where the way of thinking was different enough that it felt less human (e.g. TenSoon in Mistborn). So I think it could work, but it’s a hard one to pull off and make feel plausible. Certainly if the dragon wasn’t capable of language or intelligent thought I wouldn’t want to experience their POV!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another fantastic post! I’m trying to prepare my post for this month’s Tough Travelling but like you, I can’t remember many of the dragons I know I’ve read about. For example, you’ve mentioned Magician and despite knowing I’ve read that book twice in the past, I don’t remember the dragons in it xD
    I’ve got some researching and remembering to do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Ah yes I can totally understand that – in Magician I have this vague memory of a character being down in dwarf mines and encountering a big scary dragon who actually turns out to be nice/helpful and gives him a gift… but it’s so blurry the scene could easily have happened in another book! I did look online though and saw there were dragons in Magician, so maybe I have the scene right… who knows 🙂 Good luck with your remembering and post writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. His Majesty’s Dragon is on my list!!!! I actually have it lined up already in my Kindle — also thanks to Uprooted. 🙂

    Besides Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, and (spoiler alert?) the Farseer Trilogy, I haven’t read much dragon fantasy, either. It’s not something I ever got excited about. Maybe part of the problem is that when I was younger (erm, a bit too young, actually) I read two books — “Dragon Weather” and “The Last Dragonlord” — which were interesting, but seemed to stick pretty closely to cliches. After that it was like, “Dragons? Yawn.”

    Hopefully Naomi Novik helps sort that out for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh great, I hope you enjoy it!! I really did. If you read some lacklustre books about dragons I can see how you would have been put off reading any more – that happened to me a bit too. But McCaffrey and Novik in particular have given me a new appreciation for dragon stories!

      I haven’t continued with the Farseer trilogy yet but I’ve spied it on other dragon lists so I’ve already been spoiled on that front 🙂 (I don’t mind though, it seems to be a pretty vague spoiler!).

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. Oh this is awesome! Thank you so much for these recs – even though I did know them, I keep forgetting they exist for some reason hahaha
    The thing I most enjoyed about Heir of Fire was probably the witches and their wyverns. They were really epic and reminded me so much of How to Train Your Dragon, which I absolutely love. Otherwise, I didn’t care much for the book at all, to be honest.
    I haven’t read the others but I do share the same kind of experience. I love dragons but I haven’t actually read that many books about them, if at all? Just movies and TV shows. I definitely need to invest some time in dragon love!
    Wonderful post, Nicola 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Great you like the recs – I also knew and kept forgetting about some of these, but this theme gave me the push I needed to finally read them 🙂 The witches and wyverns were my favourite thing about Heir of Fire too! I actually don’t remember what else happened in that book tbh 😛 (but I’m bad at separating out the events in individual books in a series, it all blurs together).

      True there are lots of great film and TV dragons and they are also more prominent in my mind (I love How to Train Your Dragon too – and I coincidentally only just learnt it’s based on a book…) but it’s nice to invest some time in great book ones too. I hope you enjoy these books if you read them!


  8. It’s really interesting how much people in fantasy love dragons, but it’s hard to come up with other books featuring dragons! I love all your recommendations above. McCaffrey has a TON of books featuring dragons; I love the world she built in Pern.

    Hm. Other than the above… Paulini’s Inheretance Cycle comes to mind, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the dragons like Eragon. I also have Julie Kagawa’s Talon on my TBR. So, I can’t speak to those dragons yet. But soon enough!

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  9. Dragonflight has been on my TBR for a very long time. I’d love to read it and same too His Majesty’s Dragon.
    Seraphina was favorite. I love how the story is written, the world, and, of course, the dragons, especially how strained their relationship is with humans. It was all very interesting.

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  10. Pingback: Tough Travels #6: Dragons | Zezee with Books

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