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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dragon Champion: Book One of the Age of Fire

This morning, around 3am, I emailed the finished manuscript of Dragonforge in to Solaris. I'm going to be spending a good deal of the next three days before I go back to work reading. I've barely read any novels for the last six months as I've stared down my first real novel deadline. Basically, any time I would sit down to read a novel, I could never tune out the mantra "I should be writing, I should be writing."

However, one book that drowned out this "I should be writing" sound track is a book I just finished last weekend, E.E. Knight's Dragon Champion. This is a fantasy novel with a dragon protagonist, AuRon, a rare gray, scaleless dragon who we meet as he's pecking his way out of his shell and follow through the years as he grows into dragon-hood. It's a fantastic book on many different levels. First, Knight's dragons, while firmly in a magical tradition, follow set biological rules that are well thought out and fascinating. The ecological realities of feeding a dragon are well explored. More than a few hominids get devoured in the course of the novel and yet Knight manages to make us root for AuRon even when humans are his prey. The world doesn't break much new ground in the way of fantasy settings, there are elves, dwarves, and something called blighters that seem to fill the role of orcs or goblins. That said, Knight manages to flesh out the individual characters from each race and never lets the characters devolve into stereotypes. The fantasy world does have a lot of ancient history to absorb, but Knight lays it out quite cleverly--starting with AuRon as an infant lets the reader discover the world at the same pace as AuRon.

Despite the scope of the book, with events unfolding over decades, Knight manages to make the book a real page turner. Dragons are on the decline because humans are wiping them out, and AuRon spends large chunks of the book as a hunted beast. You're never quite certain how he's going to get out of the various perils he faces. Since the book is part one of a series, I was worried near the end by the sheer number of dangers that AuRon was facing. Problems were piled upon problems, and I found myself certain that some of the problems would carry on into the next book. But, brilliantly, Knight keeps his contract with the reader and ties everything up in a way that's quite satisfying. AuRon's final confrontation with the Wyrmmaster, the master opponent of the book, is especially well handled.

And, if you like this book, you don't have to wait for the sequel! Since I'm so behind in my reading, two other books in this world are already out. If you enjoy dragon-based fantasies, definitely check them out while you're waiting for Dragonforge.

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