The next fantasy book that we are reviewing here at TheShortStoryTeller is a much longer, and much more ambitious book.
As a life-long Dungeon Master, I could immediately see the influences of D&D dragon lore in this book. Accardi’s descriptions, nomenclature, categorization, and capabilities of the dragons were very near to what any seasoned roleplayer would recognize.
Some of the terminology, the languages in the book, and the plot and action were also very close to George R.R. Martin’s books. However, Dragonkin was written for a young adult audience, so Accardi left out most of the explicitly adult content from Game of Thrones.
I recommend this book (and potentially the upcoming series) to fans of Game of Thrones who want to share their love of dragon lore with their teenage/tweenage children. Keep reading my full review for more details!
The Fantasy Genre—Thrill of Discovery
As we read and review fantasy books during this period, we are approaching each story with this core philosophy:
The primary attraction of fantasy stories is to give the reader the thrill of new discovery without the rigors of academia.
Fantasy offers new worlds to explore, history to discover, culture and civilizations and fantastic beasts, and above all a brand new science with brand new rules; and the reader is now the Magellan, the Einstein, the Howard Carter.
A good fantasy story should spread out this discovery, keeping a consistent pace throughout the exposition. The discoveries should make sense to the reader, even if fantastically impossible, and they should always relate back to the plot later in the book.
So, how did Dragonkin meet this requirement?
Background & Exposition
One of the things that I’m quickly learning about the fantasy genre, is that both authors and readers really enjoy the exquisite exposition. Fantasy novels, and fantasy stories in other media, really require more background so that the audience can explore and learn new lore.
Dragonkin is a prime example of this. While most books try to wrap up the exposition in the first act, Dragonkin is still providing exposition nearly two-thirds of the way through the book.
Personally, by the 66% mark, I wanted more action, more plot, and more character development. I wasn’t as interested in the government structure in new cities.
Accardi does a great job with description, especially (remarkably enough) with clothing and armor. I was thoroughly impressed with the level of detail that he used to describe uniforms and casual outfits, as well as fully-armored heroes and villains.
Most of the author’s description is visual, however, and it’s a good reminder that these scenes could engage other senses. The sounds of battle, the stench of sulfur from dragon’s breath, the heat of the desert sun—these could all enrich the scenery and immerse the reader.
To be honest, I thought the narrative could have eliminated several characters and focused on fewer perspectives. The various dragons, teachers, and trainers all blended together by the end of the book. This wasn’t helped by the foreign-sounding names that they all had.
By the final battle, Accardi is introducing a nameless enemy captain and also bringing in a legendary enemy dragon into the war. These both seemed like afterthoughts, and if they were going to be major threats, they deserved an earlier mention in the book.
The character development and motivation was also a little weak. A minor disagreement between friends transformed into the major conflict in the book. The alienated friend rejected all rational thought in order to develop his hatred of his former friends.
At the beginning of this story, the main character is deemed “worthy” of owning a dragon. This worthiness is never explained in the book. There’s no character arc for the protagonist to earn this worthiness. He just gets a dragon.
Real Consequences Make The Story Real
In the middle of the book, a character has his arm severed in battle. He continues as if nothing had happened, and then grows a new arm later.
At the end of the book, one of the dragons dies and is replaced.
Injuries are healed with magic. Magic makes the mages tired and hungry, but there are no other consequences for using it for everything.
The reader never gets emotionally invested in the story, because the main characters never face any real risk, or any significant setbacks or losses.
The Final Steps That Distinguish A Story
Dragonkin is built on a rich, intricate background. Accardi has really put some thoughtful work into the environment of this story.
In fact, during many parts of the book, I felt that Dragonkin would make an excellent D&D scenario, or campaign. The background is so well fleshed-out that players would truly enjoy learning about the setting as they drive their characters through minor quests and adventures.
This might perhaps be a good way for the author to practice and learn how to drive and motivate characters, and learn about how characters develop multi-dimensionally.
I’m looking forward to learning more about this world, and its dragon-filled history, and its magical lore. But I’m not invested in the characters yet.
Accardi is in a tough position, because he has all of these fascinating details in his mind, but he needs to learn how to portion them out in several novels rather than trying to give them all at once to the readers.
I believe most readers will need to be engaged and invested in the characters in order to continue investigating the setting and background, and that happens through conflict-driven plot and real, heart-felt consequences.
But this series has a lot of promise, don’t get me wrong. For many authors, the setting and background are difficult work, and Accardi has already accomplished this. If he learns to pace his exposition and create more engrossing plot, he’ll have a winning series.
If you’ve read Dragonkin, or if you have additional perspective based on the fantasy books you have read, please comment below! And don’t forget to subscribe to future fantasy book reviews using the link at the bottom of the page!