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by Jo Walton

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-765-30264-0
Publisher: Tor

It would be wonderful to report that Walton offers a bold new step in the world of fantasy, takes the standard knights/swords/dragons huggermugger and turns the whole thing upside-down.

Alas, that’s not the case. The author had some success with her career-starting trilogy (The King’s Peace, 2000, etc.) but has decided here to branch out into something new. The conceit: a world in which class reigns supreme, aristocracy and all its attendant silliness governing people’s everyday lives, even though it looks like the old way of doing things is about to come under attack. The big exception is that all the characters in the book are dragons. Real, scale-covered, sleeping-on-a-bed-of-gold, fire-breathing (well, the older ones), bloody-carcass-eating dragons. Things start off with an undeniably eye-catching scenario: Bon Agornin, a dragon who wasn’t of gentle birth but has amassed a respectable fortune, is on his deathbed. His children have gathered for the momentous occasion: when he finally dies, as is dragon tradition, all will come together and eat the body. After this shocker, which Walton plays as just a matter of course, no more stunning than dividing up a parent’s bank account among the children, the story descends into a dull maze of subplots involving the children, their in-laws, and the vagaries of dragon prejudice. A more skilled writer could have taken this setup and made a Watership Down–style exercise out of it, pulling readers inexorably into the lives of creatures they normally wouldn’t much care about. But while Richard Adams can make us forget we’re reading about rabbits, Walton succeed as such with dragons.

Silly when not plain dull: a mediocre soap with bloody trappings.