Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Book Review: The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, immersive storytelling


Maia’s always wanted her own bonded dragon to raise, and this year’s larger than usual clutches have given her hope that her time has come. But a northern aerie has been decimated by the Harodh and their unnatural horrors, its qits killed or taken, and the Dragonry’s needs for new dragons to fight the menace trump a young woman’s. 

The appearance of the fabled Summer Dragon, witnessed by Maia and her brother, puts them at the center of a power struggle between their aerie, the Dragonry, and the Temple. Because Maia’s getting her dragon this year, one way or another. 

With the exception of two prequel scenes, the novel’s told from Maia’s point of view.  Maia’s a fascinating character.  She wants a lot from life but she’s willing to put the work and effort into earning things for herself.  She courageous in the face of horrors, and determined to do what’s right.  She’s a character who speaks her mind and tells truths the adults around her are too tactful, or scared, to say.

There are a fair number of twists to the plot, especially towards the end of the book.  The pacing is great, with some time to get to know the principle characters followed by several tense chapters, then some down time to learn about new characters before things get tense and dangerous again.

The storytelling is descriptive enough to draw a picture of the location and action, but not so detailed so as to bog down the narrative.  When the action is on, reading this is more like watching a film, incredibly immersive.

I loved learning about dragon raising and riding.  Lockwood introduced the necessary terms along with their meanings so there’s no sense of feeling lost, unaware of what’s going on.  There’s also no unnecessary exposition.  We learn with Maia and the qits.

The focus of the book is on a fairly small area.  There’s a map that shows the wider world, and a few times events happening elsewhere are recounted.  People and dragons with various colourations are mentioned, along with which geographic area they come from.  The religion is cribbed from aspects of Christianity, though it’s not a direct representation.  

There’s an overwhelming sense of hope in this book - that hard work, courage, and determination can overcome all obstacles.  This made it feel like the fantasy novels that came out in the 80s, rather than the grim dark currently popular.  It’s got a freshness to it that I enjoyed.  Having said that, there are some very dark moments and I could not believe some of the revelations. 

Todd Lockwood is one of the best fantasy artists ever, so it should come as no surprise that he’s drawn his own cover, map, aerie schematic, and section illustrations.  The interior artwork is all black and white sketches, but they are gorgeous.

The only negative I found, is that while I got to know the protagonists really well, I didn’t feel much connection to the supporting cast.  One character in particular I would have liked to know more about, and events with them during the climax didn’t hit me with the emotional punch they might have, had that connection been deeper. 

I’ve long admired Lockwood’s artwork and now I admire his impressive writing skills too.  This is a fantastic debut, one that’s perfect as an introduction to the genre as well as for long time dragon lovers.

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