One of my dad’s old fantasy novels made it off the dusty basement shelf over the weekend. I was sure I had read Dragonworld by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves years ago, but I couldn’t remember what it was about and decided to give it another go.
Dragonworld is the story of a misunderstanding—when several connected tragedies strike, the neighboring lands of Fandora and Simbala jump to conclusions and blame the other side. Can one man prevent a war? Can a young monarch maintain political stability in the midst of crisis? How can the lost secrets of the dragons possibly hold the key to ending the whole mess? These questions and others like them are the threads that run through this story, keeping the reader guessing until the last chapter.
The cover of the book claimed it was a #1 fantasy best-seller on the same level as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I liked the book, but I have to disagree with the comparison—while both are certainly fantasy adventures with much at stake, the writing style and characterization in Dragonworld simply doesn’t live up to Tolkien’s. It has that same “telling” feel to it that so many cheap fantasy and sci-fi books have. That’s one of my pet peeves in the genre, so let’s not get me started…
The two primary human groups in the story are simple, but very different. The Fandorans are short, simple people, mainly farmers and tradesmen. They are governed by town elders, and there is no overarching government unless a council is called. These are no hobbits, though—where hobbits prefer not to do anything sudden or rash, the Fandorans are ready to go to war against their formidable neighbors the instant they suspect them of wrongdoing. The Simbalese are the opposite: their civilization is more advanced, with mines, cities, flying windships, and a developed monarchy. In Simbala, it is political intrigue, not raw emotion, that runs rampant.
Yes, there are dragons in this book. I don’t want to spoil the story, though, so I won’t say too much. Just know that they are central to the story (even when they aren’t there), are conscious beings (not mere animals as portrayed in Beowulf or speculated by Animal Planet), and exist separate from the humans (this is not an Eragon-like relationship). Something I really found interesting is the respect of a dragon’s fire in this story—a fire that is rarely used. In Chapter XXXII, a late-appearing yet key character explains, “For the Dragonflame is not a gift to be used lightly, or for selfish ends, and never to take a life.” I appreciated this, since today’s books and movies seem a bit flame-happy, having dragons breathing fire every chance they get. In Dragonworld, such fire is not taken for granted.
Conclusion: If you enjoy the fantasy genre, simple style and all, you will like Dragonworld. There is nothing inappropriate in its content, so adventure-loving readers of all ages can safely read and enjoy it. The idea of dragons is well-handled, and it’s a fun story. Just don’t expect Tolkien.
One more fun fact—the sequel to this book was a computer adventure game from the 80’s by the same title. I’d love to get my hands on it, and I’ll let you know how it goes if I ever do.