Tag Archives: dragons

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This classic fantasy novel, written in 1967 by one of the world’s top sci-fi/fantasy authors… just didn’t grab me. It’s well-composed, with a nicely fleshed-out world and an interesting power structure for the wizards and some cultural details, but the story of the Sparrowhawk’s beginnings left me wondering, “so why should I care?”
I think I’m ruined for this book by the Harry Potter era. It’s just hard to get attached to a boy wizard in this style, after I’ve gotten accustomed to the very feelings, friendships, and trials of a different, more relatable wizard. The whole “true name” thing may have been a cool storytelling concept, but it just serves as one more layer between the reader and the character–what’s his name again? (The main character has no less than three different names throughout the book!). It’s also told in a rather detached third-person; we only vaguely get a sense of Sparrowhawk/Ged’s feelings at any given time, and we are invited not to feel with him but to watch as he fumbles around. Throw in the jumpy time setting (following not a calendar but whenever the action seems likely to hit) and you’ve got a story I just never felt comfortable in.
I finished the book for the lessons of the craft I could learn, not from any deep affinity for it. In fact, I found the author’s afterward far, far more compelling and approachable than the rest of the story–I’d have rated THAT 5-stars!
Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s just that this book had its heyday in a different time, in a very different genre fiction landscape. It’s certainly not LeGuin’s fault; she’s a beautiful, if impassive, author who has my utmost respect. But I’m not sure I’ll bother picking up the rest of the series.

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Review: Ship of Destiny

Ship of Destiny (Liveship Traders, #3)Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been waiting to read this book for something like 15 years. Robin Hobb‘s Liveship Traders series was the first to make me desperate for the next book…but it wasn’t written yet. But I also didn’t have much patience, so when I couldn’t get my hands on the book for a month, I gave up, moved on to other things, and forgot about it.

Until I saw Ship of Destiny in a used bookstore! Despite the long wait, Ship of Destiny did not disappoint!
Ship of Destiny is an epic fantasy that features stunning dragons, angsty/crazy talking ships, a horrible pirate, a fierce and bold woman, and desperate policitians. It’s fantastic. Robin Hobb’s knowledge of wooden galleys is incredible and makes it feel like you’re really there, feeling the sway of the swell and lash of the wind. Though the story is incredibly complex–following many paths simultaneously–it is easy to follow and all comes together beautifully.

It is one of those books that you’re both eager finish and sad to put down. It’s an epic conclusion to a great series, and I’m glad to finally have closure on it.

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Review: Dragonsong

Dragonsong (Harper Hall, #1)Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dragonsong is a quick light read that brings dragons big and small to life. This book would make a great transition for the How to Train Your Dragon lovers out there.

Despite this book having “Volume One” predominantly on the cover, I have no idea if this is the first book in the series or not: it reads like the first book in a variant series off an original, but I had the hardest time figuring out where to start. Since this one claimed to be a volume one, I jumped in here. But I may have guessed wrong.

Interestingly, it claims to be “science fiction,” but aside from the foreward, which tells the reader this takes place in an alternate Earth and mentions some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, Dragonsong entirely reads like a YA fantasy novel. (In fact, the foreward mostly makes it seem like someone dared author Anne McCaffrey that should couldn’t sell fantasy as sci-fi. I guess she managed it…sorta?)

And that’s not at all a bad thing–particularly because it was written before “young adult” was even a genre.

The story focuses on the awkward and gangly Menolly, a girl from the Sea-Hold, a grim and rough sort of place. She is disparaged for having a talent in music and her parents–the leaders of her Hold–forbid it, for fear of disgracing the hold. After she badly cuts her hand, it seems music is out of the question anyway. In frustration and a fit of teenaged pique, Menolly leaves her home and stumbles into a nest of the secretive and mysterious fire lizards–pocket dragons, essentially. With her clever tunes and kind heart, Menolly wins the trust and adoration of the fire lizards, particularly nine, who follow her and are bonded to her. When she ultimately has to return to civilization out of necessity, she finds people respect and admire her for her skill with the fire lizards, and her music is appreciated rather than castigated.

This is the kind of story that I wish I’d written. I enjoy the storyline very much, but compared to modern similar stories, it’s barely sketched out, there’s not any closure or explanation (why did her father think it was wrong for girls to sing, but later other people think it’s more than ok?), and it just sort of mentions pivotal moments. It feels incomplete or hurried. I wish we could see a much longer version of this, with a great deal of backstory, richness, and detail. I want to know more about the dragons! I want to know why it’s so peculiar that she could impress nine! I want to know why some places are so closed-off but others are super-casual.

I may be in luck: McCaffrey has written a lot about the dragons of Pern, so maybe there is more for me to find out. As an introduction, this book was pleasant, easy, and… relatively insubstantial, more of an appetizer than a meal.

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A Calendar of Tales: June

“A refrigerator. Summertime always makes me wish they’d make large refrigerators that people could squeeze in.”

Sarah stared in dismay at the stacks of applications on the desk. She’d joined the DHS because of her love for the animals, but most of her job was this: sitting at the front desk, waiting for someone to turn up, and filing—in triplicate!—the endless applications.

And hardly anyone filled them out correctly. She sighed, and pulled out her red pen.

Sarah had used her big red “Rejected” stamp 6 times before she came to an application that did not require it. She held up the application in joyous surprise. They seemed to have done their homework, had all the proper background.

She picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello, Mr. Vasquez? This is Sarah at the Dragon Humane Society. We’ve received your application and I’m happy to say you’re approved to come in for an interview. Can you come by today, by any chance? Yes, 3 o’clock will be just fine, thank you. You have our address? Great, see you then!”

Sarah hung up the phone with satisfaction. She didn’t get to make enough of those calls. She hoped the Vasquez family was as good as they seemed on paper.

The bell jangled on the door, minutes before 3 p.m. They were prompt; Sarah made a note on the file—that was good. There were five of them; a tall, handsome man with lightly tanned skin; a woman with soft curves and long dark hair; a girl, about 15; and two boys, anxiously clinging to each other’s hand’s. Sarah made a note to ask about the boys’ ages; they looked rather young.

“Hello,” the man said. “Are you Sarah? We’re here for our adoption interview?”

“Mr. Vasquez? Yes, I’m Sarah. Is this the whole family?” Sarah said brightly, picking up her clipboard and walking around the desk to shake hands, even with the boys.

“Yes, this is all of us. I’m Emilio, this is my wife Juanita, my daughter Serena, my sons Luke and Javier,” Emilio Vasquez squeezed Sarah’s hand. “We’re just so excited at the prospect of bringing a new friend into the family.”

Sarah liked them. They had an earnest wholesomeness about them. But she forced down her smile. She had to remain impartial. “Just a quick interview to ensure you can provide a good home.” She led them into a small room with a table and three chairs. Serena stood behind her parents, and the boys sat on the floor.

“Now,” Sarah said, settling into her chair and poising her pen above the clipboard. “Where will you keep your dragon? Inside or outside?”

“Inside,” Juanita said. “I’m at home with the boys most of the time, so it would stay with me. But we have a lovely backyard for it to enjoy on nice days.”

Sarah chewed the inside of her lip and made a note on the clipboard. “Are you aware of the fencing requirements?”

“Yes ma’am,” Emilio said. “In fact, I finished covering the yard with some high-quality fencing wire just yesterday.”

“Mm hm,” Sarah said. They were sailing through the interview. That was so unusual that Sarah felt wary. “How old are your boys? Will they understand how to treat an animal of this caliber?”

The small boys looked up. “Yes!” one of them cried. “We’ll be good!”

“Hush, Javier,” Juanita said. “They’re 7 and 5. But Luke will be 6 next month; I read on your website that that’s your cutoff, but frankly, we didn’t think we’d hear back so quickly.”

“Well, that may be a problem,” Sarah pursed her lips together and decided, to hell with it, she’d ignore regulations. “You are aware of the $350 adoption fee? That includes the shots and neuter, of course.”

“Yes, I can write you a check right away,” Juanita said, digging into her purse.

Sarah finally allowed herself to smile. “Then let’s go pick out your new friend.”

She led the family to the refrigeration room, and handed out jackets and gloves. The jackets were cartoonishly large on the boys, who drowned in even the smallest sizes. “Why do we need coats?” Serena said with her teenaged rancor. “Aren’t they naturally hot?”

“We keep them in refrigeration while they’re here at the center. We couldn’t contain 25 dragons if they were allowed to roam as normal. The cold slows them down; it also keeps them from growing up as quickly,” Sarah said, pulling open the door. “The sad truth is the kits do get adopted more often, so we try to keep them young as long as possible. Here we go.”

The door swung wide, revealing rows of cages all along the room. Sarah ushered them all inside, careful to close the door. “Any in particular you are interested in? Here at the DHS we’ve got several colors. I’m fond of the iridescent ones, myself.” She gestured to one cage, where a palm-sized dragon yawned. Its scales shimmered like a pearl in shallow water.

The boys ran down to the back of the room, pointing and clamoring excitedly at each new potential pet. Emilio and Juanita followed, considering each infant dragon in turn. Serena stuck her fingers through the cage of an ebony dragon, its back curling away from the bars of the cage.

“They will get to be about 45 pounds, and you’ll need to harness train them right away, before they learn to fly. They make excellent companions; superb burglar deterrents,” Sarah said. “We’ll make a home visit in a few weeks to ensure you’re doing alright, and do call if you have any trouble.”

“Mom, dad, can we get this one?” Serena stroked the head of a little brick-red dragon. It cooed and licked her finger with its forked tongue. “She’s sweet.”

“Aw, that’s Agnes. She came here from a hoarder’s house, very sad case, but we’ve patched her up.” Sarah dropped her voice to speak only to Serena. “She’s one of my favorites.”

“She’s lovely,” Juanita said. “Boys, what do you think?”

“Yeah, she’s great! Agnes, here Agnes,” Javier stuck his fingers through the bars, but they were too short to reach the dragon.

“It seems you’re all in agreement,” Sarah said. She unlocked the door and gently placed the little red dragon in Serena’s arms. “Careful, don’t pinch her wings.”

Sarah led them out of the refrigeration room and reclaimed their jackets. Juanita passed Sarah the adoption fee, and the family walked back out to their car, new friend curled happily in Serena’s arms.

Sarah used her green “Approved” stamp for the first time in weeks, grinning madly.

Read the rest of the calendar tales.

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