Dragon-slaying is so old-school. But if you don’t slay dragons, what do you do with them? The authors of these five works have some unique ideas, having reimagined the nature of dragons and built up stories around them. If you love dragons but are tired by the same old treasure-hunting, maiden-eating cliché, I invite you to check these out.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik — In this beautifully-written original fairytale, “the Dragon” is merely an epithet for a wizard who whisks off a young village girl for unknown purposes every ten years. Influenced by a childhood full of Slavic folklore and Tolkien, Ms. Novik carefully crafts a world of magic, where good and evil are not as clear as they first seem. Protagonist Agnieszka has more agency than any damsel in distress found in traditional dragon stories. She may spend most of the book up in a tower, but she does not let love overturn her life. She is open to love, but not dependent on it, just as happy to be on her own than in a relationship that would cause her to compromise too much of herself. She is a powerful character, though not without her flaws (such as an unbelievable tendency to look messy and unkempt at all times). This book is scheduled to hit the stores in May. If you’re interested in a book that doesn’t actually have any dragons in it, but which pokes at certain tropes, and is full of magic and girl-power, I highly recommend you check it out.
- Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton — This novel has been described as Pride and Prejudice but with dragons. The dragons in this story are highly anthropomorphized in their behavior, yet they are still described as flying scaly lizards in form. This leads to some rather silly mental images of dragons in ridiculous hats flying to church, and giggling and blushing over the latest gossip. There are some uniquely dragonish elements, however, that justified the use of dragons as protagonists. In their society, upon the death of a relative, the descendants gather and eat his or her flesh, thereby becoming stronger themselves. The divvying up of an elder’s body then, like the contents of a will, becomes a point of contention and family politics. The writing is witty and entertaining enough to suspend disbelief in the rather outlandish premise. If you’re open to a bit of silliness, it’s a very good read.
- Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn — I was already familiar with Carrie Vaughn for her Kitty Norville werewolf series, so when I saw that she had written a dragon book, I pounced on it. Vaughn builds an interesting world, a clash of modernity and magic where cell phones and malls exist on one side of the border, and dragons on the other. Crossing the border is forbidden, but Kay needs more adventure than can be found safely ensconced on the human side and prefers the rugged outdoors near the border. After being rescued from a near-death experience by the dragon Artegal, the two build up an unlikely friendship, constantly threatened by the prejudices of their two societies. If you want to see how dragons could fit in to the modern world, you should read this book by Carrie Vaughn.
- Firelight by Sophie Jordan — Jacinda is a draki, a descendant of dragons but with the power to transform into a human at will. After breaking a major taboo of her society, she and her family are forced into hiding, masquerading as normal in the human world. The only bright side to her exile is the prospect of a forbidden romance with an irresistible dragon-hunter, who makes her feel alive even while trapped in her human form. This book falls neatly into the YA supernatural romance pattern: new girl at school meets mysterious hot guy and it turns out that they have an unrealistic whirlwind romance that would be unhealthily interdependent and extreme in the real world, but with the twist of dragons in the picture. This pattern may be cliché, but it’s a tried and true recipe for romantic escapism. I know I at least devour these books like candy. If that’s not your thing, you might not be impressed, but if it is, pick up this book!
- A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle — Okay, so technically Proginoskes is a cherubim (yes, for those of you familiar with Hebrew morphology, I know that’s a contradiction of singular and plural. All will be explained in the book). But he has wings, emits flame and smoke, and is mistaken for a dragon when Charles Wallace first finds traces of his presence in the backyard, so I’m going to say he counts. If you are familiar with A Wrinkle in Time at all, you know that Charles Wallace is the prodigy little brother of Meg. In this second installment of the Time Quartet, Charles Wallace is very sick and Meg and her friends must travel inside the mitochondria of his body with the help of the cherubim to cure him of his illness. This book is the reason I was familiar with the terminology of cell anatomy before fourth grade. It is extremely well written, accessible to children but full of very intelligent concepts. Meg struggles with the evil of the universe and explores the power of love within the microcosm of her brother’s cells. If you haven’t read this book by n
ow, you are definitely missing out. I think everyone should read the whole Time Quartet at least once when they are children and again as adults. These books are staples of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and prime examples of exemplary writing.
What are some of your favorite dragon books? Have you read any of these? Share your thoughts in the comments!